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John Kerry on the “Surge”: When Resolve Turns Reckless

by Pamela Leavey

In the Sunday Outlook section of the Washington Post, John Kerry writes about the case for flip-flopping in a well thought out and presented case about the much discussed concept of the “surge.” Kerry makes it clear that Bush’s policies on Iraq have been a series of flops and yet Bush refuses to “flip” and change course. Since the release of the Iraq Study Group report, Bush has done nothing but play politics on the lowest possible level that any president can play at politics. It’s what Bush does best, in fact, play politics, and John Kerry points out that “Refusing to change course for fear of the political fallout is not only dangerous — it is immoral.”

The constant flip-flopping from the Bush administration on Iraq has led to the slinging of “Barbed words,” that “can make for great politics,” or as John Kerry knows first hand political fodder. But, Kerry eloquently makes the case that he would “rather explain a change of position any day than look a parent in the eye and tell them that their son or daughter had to die so that a broken policy could live.” What part of that don’t the Bush administration or the war hanger-on’ers get? For truly, as Kerry says, “No one should be looking for vindication in what is happening in Iraq today.”

The lesson here is not that some of us were right about Iraq or that some of us were wrong. The lesson is simply that we need to change course rapidly rather than perversely use mistakes already made and lives already given as an excuse to make more mistakes and lose even more lives.

When young Americans are being killed and maimed, when the Middle East is on the brink of three civil wars, even the most vaunted “steadfastness” morphs pretty quickly into stubbornness, and resolve becomes recklessness. Changing tactics in the face of changing conditions on the ground, developing new strategies because the old ones don’t work, is a hell of a lot smarter than the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again with the same tragic results.

Again, John Kerry reminds us all that, as he has so many times over the past year or more (see here and here), that “Half of the service members listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial died after America’s leaders knew that our strategy in that war was not working.” He asks the question…

Was then-secretary of defense Robert McNamara steadfast as he continued to send American troops to die for a war he knew privately could not be won?

And he reminds us all that “History does not remember his resolve — it remembers his refusal to confront reality.” And, Kerry points out that “Clark Clifford, the man who succeeded McNamara in 1968, was handpicked by President Lyndon B. Johnson because he was a renowned hawk.”

But the new defense secretary reviewed the Vietnam policy and concluded that “we cannot realistically expect to achieve anything more through our military force, and the time has come to begin to disengage.” By the time he left office, he had refused to endorse a further military buildup, supported the halt in our bombing, and urged negotiation and gradual disengagement. Was Clifford a flip-flopper of historic proportions, or did he in fact demonstrate the courage of his convictions?

It is simple now, really, because in truth, “We cannot afford to waste time being told that admitting mistakes, not the mistakes themselves, will provide our enemies with an intolerable propaganda victory.” And time is what the Bush administration keeps wasting over and over again, with their refusal to change course

We’ve already lost years being told that we have no choice but to stay the course of a failed policy.

This isn’t a time for stubbornness, nor is it a time for halfway solutions — or warmed-over “new” solutions that our own experience tells us will only make the problem worse. The Iraq Study Group tells us that “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” It joins the chorus of experts in and outside of Baghdad reminding us that there is no military solution to a political crisis. And yet, over the warnings of former secretary of state Colin Powell, Gen. John Abizaid and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington is considering a “troop buildup” option, sending more troops into harm’s way to referee a civil war.

Now here is the kicker from Kerry on the “surge,” the point no one else seems to have made about this plan with out a plan, “We have already tried a trimmed-down version of the McCain plan of indefinitely increasing troop levels,” Kerry says.

We sent 15,000 more troops to Baghdad last summer, and today the escalating civil war is even worse. You could put 100,000 more troops in tomorrow and you’re only going to add to the number of casualties until Iraqis sit down together at a bargaining table and compromise. The barrel of a gun can’t answer the question of how you force Iraqi nationalism to trump sectarian loyalty.

And, so how to do achieve stability in Iraq? The answer is clear and has been clear for a very long time now. Kerry has been right on this and consistent on this while Bush continues to flip-flop and lead us astray with policies that won’t work, like the “surge“…

The only hope for stability lies in pushing Iraqis to forge a sustainable political agreement on federalism, distributing oil revenues and neutralizing sectarian militias. And that will happen only if we set a deadline to redeploy our troops.

Last May, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad gave the new Iraqi government six months to make the necessary political compromises. But a deadline with no teeth is only lip service. How many times do we have to see that Iraqi politicians respond only to firm, specific deadlines — a deadline to transfer authority, deadlines to hold two elections and a referendum, and a deadline to form a government — before we understand that it’s time to make it clear that we are leaving and that we will not sacrifice American lives for the sake of squabbling Iraqi politicians?

Then there’s the issue of the stubbornness, the bull-headed refusal of Bush to listen to others, the refusal to sit at the table of diplomacy, a table that the Iraq Study Group recommended might help to make a difference…

Another case where steadfastness long ago gave way to stubbornness is our approach to Iraq’s neighbors. Last week in Damascus, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and I met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. We were clear about U.S. expectations for change in his regime’s policies, but we found potential for cooperation with Syria in averting a disaster in Iraq — potential that should be put to the test. Washington can’t remain on the sidelines, stubbornly clinging to a belief that talking to our enemies rewards hostile regimes.

We need to do this because, “Conversation is not capitulation.”

Until recently, it was widely accepted that good foreign policy demands a willingness to seize opportunities and change policy as the facts change. That’s neither flip-flopping nor rudderless diplomacy — it’s strength.

How else could we end up with the famous mantra that “only Nixon could go to China”? For decades, Richard Nixon built his reputation as a China hawk. In 1960, he took John Kennedy to task for being soft on China. He called isolating China a “moral position” that “flatly rejected cowardly expediency.” Then, when China broke with the Soviet Union during his presidency, he saw an opportunity to weaken our enemies and make Americans safer. His 1972 visit to China was a major U.S. diplomatic victory in the Cold War.

Ronald Reagan was no shape-shifter, either, but after calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” he met repeatedly with its leaders. When Reagan saw an opportunity for cooperation with Mikhail Gorbachev, he reached out and tested our enemies’ intentions. History remembers that he backed tough words with tough decisions — and, yes, that he changed course even as he remained true to his principles.

President Bush and all of us who grew up in the shadows of World War II remember Winston Churchill — his grit, his daring, his resolve. I remember listening to his speeches on a vinyl album in the pre-iPod era. Two years ago I spoke about Iraq at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where Churchill had drawn a line between freedom and fear in his “iron curtain” speech. In preparation, I reread some of the many words from various addresses that made him famous. Something in one passage caught my eye. When Churchill urged, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in,” he added: “except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

This is a time for such convictions.

What will it take for the Bush administration to see that we must change course? How many more lives will we lose for his stubborn refusal to change course. How many more times will he flip-flop in plain view of the American public and how much longer will BushCo apologists continue to aid and abet him? We’re on a reckless course with the flip-flopper in chief at the helm.

John Kerry has proven himself to be right time and time again, and contrary to the claim of some it is not Kerry who needs to prove himself on the issue of flip-flopping in the future, but Bush. Kerry’s been clear over and over and over again. Bush, has not. We can no longer afford to “sacrifice American lives for the sake of squabbling Iraqi politicians,” and likewise, we can no longer afford to “sacrifice American lives for the sake of squabbling” American politicians. Bush’s resolve has “turned reckless” and it’s time to put a stop to his fear of “political fallout,” and begin to bring our troops home.


  • The Economist’s View notes Kerry’s OP/ED here.
  • On The Reaction, Michael J.W. Stickings says: “He’s not necessarily my pick for ’08, but John Kerry, whom I still respect and admire a great deal, has written an excellent op-ed for The Washington Post on Iraq.”
  • Crittenden proves once again that he can’t understand logic and reason, and he remains a Bush apologist.
  • On the Inactivist, Alex says: “John Kerry Makes Sense… I wish I had voted for him. I wish we all had voted for him. Or at least that 100,000 more Ohioans had voted for him. I guess that would have been enough.”
  • – This post is linked on Memeorandum.

    7 Responses to “John Kerry on the “Surge”: When Resolve Turns Reckless”

    1. To Surge or Not To Surge

      It appears that the U.S. Generals who were against the concept of a “surge” of troops in Iraq have been strong-armed into consenting to a “surge” after all. The issue of whether or not to surge, has become as complex as Shakesp…

    2. Seems Gates, too, has a flip-flop from his confirmation, and wants to surge. Not the epiphany kind, but more the strong-armed in the presence of neo-cons kind.

    3. Actually, I noted the failed summer surge a few days ago, but no one ever listens to me…

      Great post.

    4. Watched Fox News spin Bush as a great President today for breaking with his Generals as it was obviously their policies that were at fault for the problems in Iraq.

      Nothing will change until the Republicans acknowledge that they are responsible for the deaths of over a half million innocent people or there is total disaster in Iraq. Unfortunately I think it will be the later rather than an acknowledgement of guilt.

      Merry Christmas all

    5. elmercreek,

      Every time I think Iraq has gotten bad enough SOMEBODY will get their act together, they just go on being stupid.
      And it gets worse.

      Merry Christmas and may the New Year bring some progress towards peace.

    6. […]

      Some christmas linkage from the furry atheist.

      First, from the Democratic Daily, Kerry says something that holds the key for a much merrier holiday s […]

    7. Merry Christmas Elmer Creek!

      May the New Year bring Peace & Prosperity for all.