John Kerry's foreign policy instincts.

Politics and policy.
Aug. 6 2003 3:41 PM

The Worldview of John Kerry

His instincts on foreign policy and national security.

John Kerry

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they're saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. The third series outlined what each candidate would focus on as president. This series sketches how they would manage America's role in the world.

After communism collapsed, American voters lost interest in defense and foreign policy. But those subjects can consume most of a president's time, and 9/11 returned them to the forefront. It's difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it's possible to get a sense of how he approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieces together a picture of each candidate's instincts based on his words and his record. Today's subject is John Kerry.

Soldier's perspective: Kerry and Wes Clark are the only 2004 candidates who served in the active military. Like Clark, Kerry earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts in Vietnam *. When he returned home, he became a spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Corrupt allies: When Kerry entered the Senate in 1985, he joined the Foreign Relations Committee and took charge of the subcommittee on narcotics and terrorism. His investigations of U.S. involvement in Latin America, especially with the Nicaraguan Contras, brought that issue to the forefront. The subcommittee revealed the role of Reagan aide Oliver North in smuggling guns to the Contras. It also uncovered the drug-running of CIA-funded Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Kerry called these connections part of an "illegal war." He angered the political establishment by demanding the testimony of Clark Clifford, a Democratic Party insider whose bank was linked to Noriega's money laundering. The subcommittee also intimated that some CIA operatives working with the Contras had smuggled narcotics into the United States. Ten years later, the CIA acknowledged that this was true.

Terrorism and multilateralism: In 1997, Kerry wrote The New War, which analyzed emerging threats posed by international criminal groups such as terrorist organizations and drug cartels. The book outlined multilateral steps to combat international crime. It urged the United States to "regulate electronic money transfers; expand the scope of extraterritorial jurisdiction for major crimes committed against a country's citizens overseas; use the CIA and other intelligence services to penetrate global crime organizations; [and] share the seized assets of international criminals with governments that cooperate in fighting global crime."

Dogmas and grudges: In 1991, Kerry chaired a bipartisan investigation into the possibility that American POWs were still captive in Vietnam. Despite pressure from POW activists, he convinced the investigative committee, including reluctant Republican senators, that there were no leftover American soldiers in Vietnam. The committee's unanimous agreement set the stage for the 1995 normalization of relations with Vietnam.

Correction, Feb. 4, 2004: The article originally said Kerry was the only 2004 presidential candidate who fought in Vietnam. After the article was posted, Wes Clark, a fellow Vietnam veteran, announced his candidacy. Each man won a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three awards of the Purple Heart. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Avi Zenilman is a former Slate intern.

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