Insight on the News -Politics
Release date: March 1, 2004
The Democratic Party's presidential front-runner, Sen. John Kerry(D-Mass.), has pledged that if elected he will abandon thepresident's war on terror, begin a dialogue with terrorist regimesand apologize for three-and-one-half years of mistakes by the Bushadministration.
In a sweeping foreign-policy address to the Council on ForeignRelations in December, Kerry called the U.S. war on terror asconceived and led by President George W. Bush "the most arrogant,inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history."Kerry's remarks were widely praised by journalists. The AssociatedPress headlined its report on his speech, "Kerry Vows to RepairForeign Relations." The Knight Ridder news service noted that the newfocus on foreign policy "plays to Kerry's strength." None of themajor U.S. dailies found Kerry's unusually strident language at allinappropriate. "Kerry Vows to Change U.S. Foreign Policy; SenatorDescribes Steps He Would Take as President," the Washington Postheadlined ponderously.
Presidential contenders have criticized sitting presidents intimes of war before, but what's unique today is that "it has becomethe rule, not the exception," says Michael Franc, vice president forgovernment relations at the Heritage Foundation. "With a few notableexceptions, you have almost the entire Democratic Party hierarchythat opposes what Bush is doing in the most vitriolic and emotionalterms."
Heritage presidential historian Lee Edwards called it "not aforeign-policy analysis but a polemical speech, filled withinflammatory rhetoric that is disturbing and beyond the pale. Whatthis suggests is that Mr. Kerry wants to take us back to President[Bill] Clinton and his U.N.-led multilateral policies."
Kerry promised to spend the first 100 days of his administrationtraveling the world to denounce his predecessor, apologize for his"radically wrong" policy, and seek "cooperation and compromise" withfriend and foe alike. Borrowing language normally reserved tocharacterize "rogue" states, Kerry said he would "go to the UnitedNations and travel to our traditional allies to affirm that theUnited States has rejoined the community of nations."
Perhaps frustrated that his radical departure from the war onterror was not getting much attention in the trenches of DemocraticParty politics, Kerry ordered his campaign to mobilize grass-rootssupporters to spread the word. In one e-mail message, obtained byInsight and confirmed as authentic by the Kerry camp, the senator'sadvisers enlisted overseas Democrats to launch a letter-writing andop-ed campaign denouncing the Bush foreign-policy record.
"'It is in the urgent interests of the people of the United Statesto restore our country's credibility in the eyes of the world," themessage states. "America needs the kind of leadership that willrepair alliances with countries on every continent that have been sodamaged in the past few years, as well as build new friendships andovercome tensions with others."
The e-mail succeeded beyond the wildest dream of Kerry's handlers- at least, so they tell Insight. It was immediately picked up by theMehr news agency in Tehran, and appeared the next day on the frontpage of a leading hard-line daily there.
"I have no idea how they got hold of that letter, which wasprepared for Democrats Abroad," Kerry's top foreign-policy aide, RandBeers, tells Insight. "I scratched my head when I saw that. The onlyway they could have gotten it was if someone in Iran was withDemocrats Abroad."
The hard-line, anti-American Tehran Times published the entiretext of the seven-paragraph e-mail under a triumphant headlineannouncing that Kerry pledged to "repair damage if he wins election."By claiming that the Kerry campaign had sent the message directly toan Iranian news agency in Tehran, the paper indicated that the e-mailwas a demonstration of Kerry's support for a murderous regime thateven today tops the State Department's list of supporters ofinternational terrorism.
According to dissident Ayatollah Mehdi Haeri, who fled Iran forGermany after being held for four years in a regime prison, Iran'shard-line clerics "fear President Bush." In an interview withInsight, Haeri says that President Bush's messages of support topro-democracy forces inside Iran and his insistence that the Iranianregime abandon its nuclear-weapons program "have given these peoplethe shivers. They think that if Bush is re-elected, they'll be gone.That's why they want to see Kerry elected."
The latest Bush message, released on Feb. 24, commented on thewidely boycotted Iranian parliamentary elections that took place theweek before. "I am very disappointed in the recently disputedparliamentary elections in Iran," President Bush said. "Thedisqualification of some 2,400 candidates by the unelected GuardianCouncil deprived many Iranians of the opportunity to freely choosetheir representatives. I join many in Iran and around the world incondemning the Iranian regime's efforts to stifle freedom of speech,including the closing of two leading reformist newspapers in therun-up to the election. Such measures undermine the rule of law andare clear attempts to deny the Iranian people's desire to freelychoose their leaders. The United States supports the Iranian people'saspiration to live in freedom, enjoy their God-given rights anddetermine their own destiny."
The Kerry campaign released no statement on the widely discreditedIranian elections, reinforcing allegations from pro-democracy Iranianexiles in America that the junior senator from Massachusetts isworking hand-in-glove with pro-regime advocates in the UnitedStates.
Kerry foreign-policy aide Beers tried to nuance the impressionthat Kerry was willing to seek new ties with the Tehran regime andforgive the Islamic republic for 25 years of terror that began bytaking U.S. diplomats hostage in Tehran in 1979 and continues to thisday with Iran's overt support and harboring of top al-Qaedaoperatives. Just the day before the e-mail message was sent to theMehr news agency, Beers told a foreign-policy forum in Washingtonthat Kerry "is not saying that he is looking for better relationswith Iran. He is looking for a dialogue with Iran. There are someissues on which we really need to sit down with the Iranians."
The word "dialogue" immediately gives comfort to hard-liners, saysAyatollah Haeri. While Beer's comments went unnoticed by the U.S.press, they were prominently featured by the official IslamicRepublic News Agency in a Feb. 7 dispatch from Washington.
In an interview with Insight, Beers went even further. "We areprepared to talk to the Iranian government" of hard-line,anti-American clerics, he insisted. "While we realize we have majordifferences, there are areas that could form the basis forcooperation, such as working together to stop drug production inAfghanistan."
Beers has a special history in Washington. A longtime NationalSecurity Council aide who served President Clinton and was carriedover by the Bush White House, he resigned as the war in Iraq began inMarch 2003. Just weeks later, he volunteered for the Kerry campaign.The Washington Post heralded him in a profile as "a lifelongbureaucrat" who was an "unlikely insurgent." Yet the Postacknowledged that he was a "registered Democrat" who by resigning atsuch a critical moment was "not just declaring that he's a Democrat.He's declaring that he's a Kerry Democrat, and the way he wants tomake a difference in the world is to get his former boss[Bush] out of office."
Talking to Insight, Beers compares Kerry's proposal to begin talkswith Iran to the senator's earlier advocacy of renewing relationswith Vietnam after the Vietnam War: "No expectations, eyes wideopen."
With Iran, which is known to be harboring top al-Qaeda operatives,Beers says "there is no way to have a deal without having thehard-liners as part of the dialogue. We are prepared to talk to thehard-line element" as part of an overall political dialogue with theIranian regime.
The Kerry policy of seeking an accommodation with the regime isnot new, says Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the WashingtonInstitute for Near East Policy who has been tracking Iran policy fortwo decades. "Kerry's approach is that of many in Europe who thinkyou must entice rogue regimes. Enticement only works if it isfollowed up with the notion that there would be a penalty if theydidn't behave. I see nothing of that in Sen. Kerry's statements."
For Aryo Pirouznia, who chairs the Student Movement CoordinationCommittee for Democracy in Iran, Kerry's offer to negotiate withhard-liners in the regime smacks of lunacy. "America is incrediblypopular with the Iranian masses, so this is a grave mistake for ashort-term benefit," Pirouznia says. "To the regime, this sends amessage that America is willing to make a deal despite the blood ofAmericans who were murdered in Dhahran [Saudi Arabia] and arebeing killed today in Iraq by so-called foreign elements. And toIranians, it shows that the old establishment may be back in power, areturn to the Carter era."
Pirouznia's Texas-based support group, which worked closely withprotesting students during the July 1999 uprising in Tehran, sent anopen letter to Kerry on Feb. 19 noting that "millions of dollars" hadbeen raised for the Democratic Party by Iranian-Americanpolitical-action committees and fund-raisers with ties to the Tehranregime. "By sending such a message directly to the organs and themegaphones of the dictatorial Islamic regime, you have given themcredibility, comfort and embraced this odious theocracy," Pirouzniasays. "You have encouraged and emboldened a tyrannical regime to usethis as propaganda and declare 'open season' on the freedom fightersin Iran."
For more on this story, read "JohnKerry's Iranian-American Fund-Raisers."
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a seniorwriter for Insight and author of TheFrench Betrayal of America,just released from Crown Forum.