The 2004 election is the first since the Vietnam War era that
may be won or lost on foreign policy. To beat President Bush,
Democratic nominee John Kerry will have to convince voters he can
do a better job managing the Iraqi reconstruction effort. But the
foreign policy debate has recently expanded with North Korea and
Iran attracting attention over their nuclear pursuits.
Despite all the back-and-forth talk on Iraq, the candidates are
very similar in their policy proposals for the future of Iraq.
Both say they are committed to the schedule set forth by the
Bush administration, including January elections in Iraq.
Both say they will maintain a U.S. military presence in Iraq for
an indefinite period of time.
But even as their plans overlap, Kerry has vigorously fought to
distinguish himself from Bush by criticizing the previous foreign
policy initiatives he has taken — particularly regarding
Bush’s moves in rebuilding Iraq.
Outside of Iraq policy, Bush and Kerry don’t see
eye-to-eye on the approaches to dealing with future dilemmas with
potentially hostile nations such as Iran and North Korea.
Specifically, they diverge on the issue of multilateral
negotiations with those countries.
In Iraq, Kerry has said he would be able to broaden the U.S.-led
coalition if he is elected president, and has pledged to include
more allies from Europe and the Middle East.
“I have a plan to have a summit with all of the allies,
something this president has not yet achieved, not yet been able to
do to bring people to the table,” Kerry said in a debate with
President Bush on foreign policy on Sept. 30.
The Democratic nominee has said a conference with the leaders of
European and Arab nations would help convince them to augment the
coalition. He would also invite NATO to assist in the training of
Iraqi security forces within Iraq as well as in NATO countries.
“We can do a better job of training the Iraqi forces to
defend themselves, and I know that we can do a better job of
preparing for elections,” he said in the same debate.
Bush has pre-empted many of Kerry’s future plans for Iraq.
His administration has endorsed a two-day conference on Iraq that
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will host next month. This
conference is part of Bush’s larger strategy to win back
allies. The guest list includes leaders from Europe and the Middle
At the behest of the Bush administration, NATO members agreed
earlier this month to aid in the training of Iraqi security forces,
The Associated Press reported. They have promised 300 trainers by
the year’s end in addition to the 40 already stationed there,
with a possible total contribution of 2,000 to 3,000 trainers.
Not all of the training will take place within Iraq. According
to NATO officials, Iraqi policemen and troops will also train in
Italy, Germany and Norway.
Despite these developments, Kerry has said he would still
accelerate the training process. The Democratic nominee has said
the involvement of more allies would ease the burden on
Though Kerry has asserted that he will gain allies if elected,
no nation has publicly stated its intention to commit troops to
Iraq in the event of a Kerry victory.
Earlier this month, a spokesman for German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder said Germany will not change its policy on Iraq, even if
Kerry is elected.
“It remains in the future as it was in the past —
there will be no German soldiers in Iraq,” he told the
But Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards has said a
Kerry presidency would attract allies.
“Success breeds contribution, (which) breeds joining the
coalition,” he said in this month’s vice-presidential
Many of the allies’ leaders have also expressed resentment
at being denied reconstruction contracts by Bush for not having
committed to the original coalition.
Kerry has said he would allow countries that did not support the
U.S.-led invasion to bid on reconstruction contracts.
Kerry’s plan to spread the responsibility of rebuilding
Iraq is an idea also shared by the Bush administration.
The administration has said an Iraqi army is being trained to
compensate for the shortage of allies and relieve pressure on the
United States. There are currently 165,000 trained Iraqi personnel
and the U.S. Department of Defense plans to expand the Iraqi
National Guard, the army and the force patrolling Iraqi
The Bush administration has suggested — most recently by
Vice President Dick Cheney in a debate with Edwards — that
the burden of manpower, weaponry, tax dollars and casualties is
shared by the U.S. with its allies. But as Edwards noted in the
debate, an overwhelming majority of coalition casualties have been
suffered by the United States, and CNN.com reports that about 90
percent of the coalition’s casualties have been borne by U.S.
One week ago, the White House provided fuel for Kerry’s
claim that Bush has not been aggressive enough in his pursuit of
allies when it rejected a Saudi plan for a Muslim force that would
provide security for Iraq’s planned elections in January. One
reason the administration offered for the rejection was that the
proposed force would operate outside the established chain of
Perhaps the sharpest contrast that has emerged between Bush and
Kerry’s foreign policy platforms relates to their stances on
dealing with North Korea and Iran.
Unlike Bush, the Democratic nominee has favored bilateral talks
with North Korea, which claims to have several nuclear weapons and
defends its right to possess nuclear arms as a deterrent to U.S.
aggression. In the final presidential debate, Kerry said this
strategy would allow direct dialogue with North Korea on a wide
range of issues, including its nuclear arsenal and human rights
The Bush administration has refused to pursue one-on-one
discussions with North Korea and has instead been engaged in
six-party negotiations with the country that have also involved
China, South Korea, Russia and Japan. But North Korean dictator Kim
Jong Il has been reluctant to continue these talks, citing
Bush’s hostile stance towards the Communist nation.
The presidential candidates also diverge on the issue of dealing
with Iran. The Bush administration has expressed a desire to take
up the issue in the U.N. Security Council, while diplomats from
Britain, France and Germany met with Iranian counterparts Thursday
and plan to have another meeting Wednesday in Vienna. The three
nations are offering incentives to persuade Tehran to halt uranium
Kerry, on the other hand, has said he would join these
international efforts to discourage Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Islamic nation recently announced it will forge ahead with its
nuclear program, though it claims its goal is to generate nuclear
power and not weapons.
But foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said yesterday,
“Indefinite suspension of nuclear enrichment activities is
not acceptable to the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Neither candidate may be able to convince Iran to abandon its
atomic energy program. As reported by the Islamic Republic News
Agency, President Mohammed Khatami said last week, “Kerry and
Bush are both wrong if they think they can deprive Iran of its
legitimate right to acquire nuclear technology.
“U.S. policy is based on denying the right of Iran in
enriching uranium to produce nuclear fuel and this is something we
do not accept,” he added.