Sunday, 12 September 2004

The patriotism canard

David Adesnik of OxBlog makes a rather curious statement in a parenthetical aside in his discussion of Dick Cheney’s charge that John Kerry isn’t serious about the War on Terror:

… Cheney did come perilously close to attacking John Kerry’s patriotism.

It strikes me that Cheney attacked (perhaps somewhat unfairly) John Kerry’s alleged position on the relative merits of the use of military force versus other techniques for dealing with al-Qaeda and other international terror organizations. That seems like an attack on Kerry’s competence, or his worldview, or (if you don’t believe the statement David quotes from Kerry) his sincerity—but I’m not sure at all that it’s an attack on Kerry’s patriotism. Indeed, this account of the January 29, 2004, debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls in Greenville, S.C., has Kerry stating, in response to a question from Tom Brokaw:

The war on terror is less-it is occasionally military, and it will be, and it will continue to be for a long time, and we will need the best trained and the most well equipped and the most capable military, such as we have today.

But it’s primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world, the very thing this administration is worst at. I will renew our alliances. I will rejoin the community of nations. I will build the kind of cooperative effort that we need in order to be able to win and, most importantly, the war on terror is also an engagement in the Middle East economically, socially, culturally, in a way that we haven’t embraced because otherwise we’re inviting the clash of civilizations, and I think this administration’s arrogant and ideological policy is taking America down a more dangerous path. I will make America safer than they are.

Is that statement congruent with Cheney’s (implied) charge that Kerry shares “the pre-9/11 mind-set, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we are not really at war”? It’s certainly closer to that viewpoint than Kerry’s DNC speech.

Calling Cheney’s statement “un-American,” as John Edwards did, would be an attack on someone’s patriotism, as would hypothetical statements such as “John Kerry hates America,” “John Kerry wants the terrorists to win,” or “John Kerry materially aided the North Vietnamese regime against the United States in the early 1970s.” Of course, Cheney made none of these statements or expressed similar sentiments, so I’m a bit mystified as to how what he did say constitutes an attack on Kerry’s patriotism.

Speaking just for myself, I don’t question Kerry’s patriotism—I think he genuinely believes that the policies that he and his fellow Democrats espouse are the ones that are best for America—but I think there are legitimate questions to be raised about whether Kerry’s proposals for greater international cooperation are simply papering over pathological problems with the transatlantic alliance (incidentally, Stephen Bainbridge has penned an interesting take on the future role of the United States as the leader of the international system).