The Right Coast

August 02, 2004
Kerry's Secret Plan
By Gail Heriot

OK, John Kerry’s secret plan to bring home the troops did indeed make me laugh a bit. Yesterday on ABC’s This Week, Kerry told George Stephanopoulos that he would bring home a “significant” number of our troops from Iraq during his first term. He will accomplish this feat, not by cutting and running, but by convincing our thus-far reluctant allies to shoulder more of the burden. Evidently, our problem is that up to now France and Germany haven’t been asked to help in quite the right way. When asked to elaborate on his plan, he responded in Nixonian language, “I am not going to lay out my whole plan here. I need to be able to negotiate as a president.” He later added, “As president, I have enormous leverage and tools available to me this president has never used properly.”

Well ... let me just say that I am skeptical. But let me add one more thing. In general, we should be happy that we live in a world in which diplomatic machinations will only get you so far. Sure, talented diplomats can make a difference on some of the issues of the day. And their actions quite frequently affect the course of events substantially (though all-too-often in ways they did not anticipate and cannot control). But there’s only so much that a diplomat can do to persuade a nation to go to war or even support a war conducted by some other country. Iraq is not exactly an obscure issue in Europe. The average voter has a strong view on it; most are strongly against. The views of the great army of French and German voters are likely to trump those of Mr. Kerry’s army of special envoys. That’s democracy.

If Kerry wants to convince the governments of France and Germany to help, he will need to convince these voters of the rightness of cause, not negotiate with their leaders. Persuading that many people is a tough job. I’m not sure it’s worth anyone’s time at this point. But Kerry is hardly an obvious choice for such a task, since it’s not clear that he is convinced himself.