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Kerry Interview in the NY Times Magazine
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Here's an excellent article/interview with John Kerry, written by Matt Bai.

It does a good job of pointing out Kerry's strengths and weaknesses, while fleshing out his background and clearly delineating his views on the war on terrorism with those of Bush.

It's pretty funny at times, too.

On an evening in August, just after a campaign swing through the Southwest, Kerry and I met, for the second of three conversations about terrorism and national security, in a hotel room overlooking the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier. A row of Evian water bottles had been thoughtfully placed on a nearby table. Kerry frowned.

''Can we get any of my water?'' he asked Stephanie Cutter, his communications director, who dutifully scurried from the room. I asked Kerry, out of sheer curiosity, what he didn't like about Evian.

''I hate that stuff,'' Kerry explained to me. ''They pack it full of minerals.''

''What kind of water do you drink?'' I asked, trying to make conversation.

''Plain old American water,'' he said.

''You mean tap water?''

''No,'' Kerry replied deliberately. He seemed now to sense some kind of trap. I was left to imagine what was going through his head. If I admit that I drink bottled water, then he might say I'm out of touch with ordinary voters. But doesn't demanding my own brand of water seem even more aristocratic? Then again, Evian is French -- important to stay away from anything even remotely French.

''There are all kinds of waters,'' he said finally. Pause. ''Saratoga Spring.'' This seemed to have exhausted his list. ''Sometimes I drink tap water,'' he added.

Heh. I found this pretty funny, even though it says more about politics in the age of rabid overscrutiny than it does about Kerry, but it sets the stage for the interview pretty well. Bai notes that Kerry seems much more cagey and defensive from the outset than someone like Clinton, who seemed to thrive on campaigning.

It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Kerry hasn't been eager to challenge Bush's grand notion of a war on terror; such a distinction might sound weak, equivocal or, worse yet, nuanced. It's equally unsurprising that, in the recent Times poll, 57 percent of the respondents said Kerry hadn't made his plans for the country clear, and 63 percent believed he said what he thought people wanted to hear, rather than what he actually thought. This reflected savage Republican attacks on Kerry's character, to be sure, but it probably also had something to do with the fact that he hadn't made his plans clear and seemed to be saying what he thought people wanted to hear.

True enough.

Bai points out how Dems tend to hide behind the "complexity" of an issue or policy, mostly from a failed attempt to clearly frame or articulate that issue.

Here's the part that most conservative bloggers are going nuts about:

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''

Kerry calls terrorism a "nuisance"? I've already heard several bloggers screaming their heads off about this, but it's definitely an overreaction.

Bush himself said the war on terrorism probably won't be won, in the sense of complete eradication. There will be no treaty signing. A victory will be driving terrorism down to low levels, so that there are no large-scale attacks like 9/11, so that it doesn't capture headlines or dictate world affairs, because it is so rare and ineffective. So both men mean the same thing here, I think.

There was stuff like this about Kerry that I didn't know:

In 1988, Kerry successfully proposed an amendment that forced the Treasury Department to negotiate so-called Kerry Agreements with foreign countries. Under these agreements, foreign governments had to promise to keep a close watch on their banks for potential money laundering or they risked losing their access to U.S. markets. Other measures Kerry tried to pass throughout the 90's, virtually all of them blocked by Republican senators on the banking committee, would end up, in the wake of 9/11, in the USA Patriot Act; among other things, these measures subject banks to fines or loss of license if they don't take steps to verify the identities of their customers and to avoid being used for money laundering.

The article points out that Kerry carried out a lot of important work in combating organized crime. It also points out his work in establishing diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

This is the kind of stuff I'd like to hear from the candidate himself. What the hell he's been doing for the past twenty years...not so much what he did for four months in Vietnam.

But here's the best writing in the piece, when Bai differentiates between the philosophies of Bush and Kerry on terrorism:

Bush, like Kerry, accepts the premise that America is endangered mainly by a new kind of adversary that claims no state or political entity as its own. But he does not accept the idea that those adversaries can ultimately survive and operate independently of states; in fact, he asserts that terrorist groups are inevitably the subsidiaries of irresponsible regimes.


Kerry's view, on the other hand, suggests that it is the very premise of civilized states, rather than any one ideology, that is under attack. And no one state, acting alone, can possibly have much impact on the threat, because terrorists will always be able to move around, shelter their money and connect in cyberspace; there are no capitals for a superpower like the United States to bomb, no ambassadors to recall, no economies to sanction.


If Kerry's foreign-policy frame is correct, then law enforcement probably is the most important, though not the only, strategy you can employ against such forces, who need passports and bank accounts and weapons in order to survive and flourish. Such a theory suggests that, in our grief and fury, we have overrated the military threat posed by Al Qaeda, paradoxically elevating what was essentially a criminal enterprise, albeit a devastatingly sophisticated and global one, into the ideological successor to Hitler and Stalin -- and thus conferring on the jihadists a kind of stature that might actually work in their favor, enabling them to attract more donations and more recruits.

I'll concede that Kerry may be right. There are no clear and easy answers about how to combat terrorism.

Ultimately I agree with the Bush Doctrine, that without states to harbor and support terrorists, they are unable to sustain any kind of centralized leadership, which will ultimately result in weakened, fractured splinters incapable of the type of large scale carnage of 9/11. Sure, the terrorists lived in both Germany and the U.S. for a time, but they trained in Afghanistan, and that was the base of operations and conduit for the funds. The by-product of a successful implementation of this policy is toppling noxious dictators and at least giving the possibility of freedom and human rights to a part of the world anathema to those ideals.

Anyway, even though I've quote large chunks, it's a very long, very well-done piece. Go read the whole thing.

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