March 01, 2004
Kenneth R. Timmerman
The Democratic Party's presidential front-runner, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has pledged that if elected he will abandon the president's war on terror, begin a dialogue with terrorist regimes and apologize for three-and-one-half years of mistakes by the Bush administration.
In a sweeping foreign-policy address to the Council on Foreign Relations in December, Kerry called the U.S. war on terror as conceived 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 Associated Press headlined its report on his speech, "Kerry Vows to Repair Foreign Relations." The Knight Ridder news service noted that the new focus on foreign policy "plays to Kerry's strength." None of the major U.S. dailies found Kerry's unusually strident language at all inappropriate. "Kerry Vows to Change U.S. Foreign Policy; Senator Describes Steps He Would Take as President," the Washington Post headlined ponderously.
Presidential contenders have criticized sitting presidents in times of war before, but what's unique today is that "it has become the rule, not the exception," says Michael Franc, vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation. "With a few notable exceptions, you have almost the entire Democratic Party hierarchy that opposes what Bush is doing in the most vitriolic and emotional terms."
Heritage presidential historian Lee Edwards called it "not a foreign-policy analysis but a polemical speech, filled with inflammatory rhetoric that is disturbing and beyond the pale. What this 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 administration traveling the world to denounce his predecessor, apologize for his "radically wrong" policy, and seek "cooperation and compromise" with friend and foe alike. Borrowing language normally reserved to characterize "rogue" states, Kerry said he would "go to the United Nations and travel to our traditional allies to affirm that the United States has rejoined the community of nations."
Perhaps frustrated that his radical departure from the war on terror was not getting much attention in the trenches of Democratic Party politics, Kerry ordered his campaign to mobilize grass-roots supporters to spread the word. In one e-mail message, obtained by Insight and confirmed as authentic by the Kerry camp, the senator's advisers enlisted overseas Democrats to launch a letter-writing and op-ed campaign denouncing the Bush foreign-policy record.
"'It is in the urgent interests of the people of the United States to restore our country's credibility in the eyes of the world," the message states. "America needs the kind of leadership that will repair alliances with countries on every continent that have been so damaged in the past few years, as well as build new friendships and overcome 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 the Mehr news agency in Tehran, and appeared the next day on the front page of a leading hard-line daily there.
"I have no idea how they got hold of that letter, which was prepared for Democrats Abroad," Kerry's top foreign-policy aide, Rand Beers, tells Insight. "I scratched my head when I saw that. The only way they could have gotten it was if someone in Iran was with Democrats Abroad."
The hard-line, anti-American Tehran Times published the entire text of the seven-paragraph e-mail under a triumphant headline announcing that Kerry pledged to "repair damage if he wins election." By claiming that the Kerry campaign had sent the message directly to an Iranian news agency in Tehran, the paper indicated that the e-mail was a demonstration of Kerry's support for a murderous regime that even today tops the State Department's list of supporters of international terrorism.
According to dissident Ayatollah Mehdi Haeri, who fled Iran for Germany after being held for four years in a regime prison, Iran's hard-line clerics "fear President Bush." In an interview with Insight, Haeri says that President Bush's messages of support to pro-democracy forces inside Iran and his insistence that the Iranian regime abandon its nuclear-weapons program "have given these people the 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 the widely boycotted Iranian parliamentary elections that took place the week before. "I am very disappointed in the recently disputed parliamentary elections in Iran," President Bush said. "The disqualification of some 2,400 candidates by the unelected Guardian Council deprived many Iranians of the opportunity to freely choose their representatives. I join many in Iran and around the world in condemning the Iranian regime's efforts to stifle freedom of speech, including the closing of two leading reformist newspapers in the run-up to the election. Such measures undermine the rule of law and are clear attempts to deny the Iranian people's desire to freely choose their leaders. The United States supports the Iranian people's aspiration to live in freedom, enjoy their God-given rights and determine their own destiny."
The Kerry campaign released no statement on the widely discredited Iranian elections, reinforcing allegations from pro-democracy Iranian exiles in America that the junior senator from Massachusetts is working hand-in-glove with pro-regime advocates in the United States.
Kerry foreign-policy aide Beers tried to nuance the impression that Kerry was willing to seek new ties with the Tehran regime and forgive the Islamic republic for 25 years of terror that began by taking U.S. diplomats hostage in Tehran in 1979 and continues to this day with Iran's overt support and harboring of top al-Qaeda operatives. Just the day before the e-mail message was sent to the Mehr news agency, Beers told a foreign-policy forum in Washington that Kerry "is not saying that he is looking for better relations with Iran. He is looking for a dialogue with Iran. There are some issues on which we really need to sit down with the Iranians."
The word "dialogue" immediately gives comfort to hard-liners, says Ayatollah Haeri. While Beer's comments went unnoticed by the U.S. press, they were prominently featured by the official Islamic Republic News Agency in a Feb. 7 dispatch from Washington.
In an interview with Insight, Beers went even further. "We are prepared to talk to the Iranian government" of hard-line, anti-American clerics, he insisted. "While we realize we have major differences, there are areas that could form the basis for cooperation, such as working together to stop drug production in Afghanistan."
Beers has a special history in Washington. A longtime National Security Council aide who served President Clinton and was carried over by the Bush White House, he resigned as the war in Iraq began in March 2003. Just weeks later, he volunteered for the Kerry campaign. The Washington Post heralded him in a profile as "a lifelong bureaucrat" who was an "unlikely insurgent." Yet the Post acknowledged that he was a "registered Democrat" who by resigning at such 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 to make 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 talks with Iran to the senator's earlier advocacy of renewing relations with Vietnam after the Vietnam War: "No expectations, eyes wide open."
With Iran, which is known to be harboring top al-Qaeda operatives, Beers says "there is no way to have a deal without having the hard-liners as part of the dialogue. We are prepared to talk to the hard-line element" as part of an overall political dialogue with the Iranian regime.
The Kerry policy of seeking an accommodation with the regime is not new, says Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been tracking Iran policy for two decades. "Kerry's approach is that of many in Europe who think you must entice rogue regimes. Enticement only works if it is followed up with the notion that there would be a penalty if they didn't behave. I see nothing of that in Sen. Kerry's statements."
For Aryo Pirouznia, who chairs the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, Kerry's offer to negotiate with hard-liners in the regime smacks of lunacy. "America is incredibly popular with the Iranian masses, so this is a grave mistake for a short-term benefit," Pirouznia says. "To the regime, this sends a message that America is willing to make a deal despite the blood of Americans who were murdered in Dhahran [Saudi Arabia] and are being killed today in Iraq by so-called foreign elements. And to Iranians, it shows that the old establishment may be back in power, a return to the Carter era."
Pirouznia's Texas-based support group, which worked closely with protesting students during the July 1999 uprising in Tehran, sent an open letter to Kerry on Feb. 19 noting that "millions of dollars" had been raised for the Democratic Party by Iranian-American political-action committees and fund-raisers with ties to the Tehran regime. "By sending such a message directly to the organs and the megaphones of the dictatorial Islamic regime, you have given them credibility, comfort and embraced this odious theocracy," Pirouznia says. "You have encouraged and emboldened a tyrannical regime to use this as propaganda and declare 'open season' on the freedom fighters in Iran."
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.