John Kerry, international man of mystery?

By wrecking the Western alliance, President Bush has paved the way for a President Kerry to rebuild it.

By Thomas Geoghegan
Published March 26, 2004 9:25PM (EST)

At my local Imbiss, for doner kabob, in Berlin, the owner, no fan of Bush, worries that America might elect Sen. John Kerry and flee Iraq. "If he leaves it is chaos." Relax, I said. Kerry's more likely than Bush is to stay.

First, because the Democrats have to prove themselves: being tough, Rambo-like, is now a Democrat obsession. It's Bush who has more running room to get out of Iraq. But a bigger reason is: Relieved Bush is gone, the Europeans might pay for Kerry to stay on. So why close a losing show, when at last it starts to pay? Indeed, to roll back Bush's tax cuts, Kerry may need a real commitment to Iraq.

Consider this nightmare: In 2005, a President Kerry goes to the Republican Congress and tries to get a tax hike. Meanwhile, the Fed is raising interest rates, with Americans deep in debt. And he wants to raise taxes. Could anything be worse? (Yes, housing prices could be falling, as well!)

Better for Kerry to hang on in Iraq, and go to Congress, not for a permanent but a temporary tax: a "surcharge," a war tax. Call upon the country's patriotism. Doesn't the right wing pride itself on that? And if Congress gives him such a war tax, take it -- and let the Europeans pay.

This may sound like a bait and switch. But who would object? The Europeans might, but should not. If our deficit goes down, the dollar may stop falling. Or at least not fall to $2-to-a-euro. Even some of the Republicans would be relieved. (After President Clinton raised taxes, with every Republican senator voting no, one was famously quoted, "Thank God it passed!")

If there's a President Kerry, let's consider his big problems: cutting the deficit. Creating jobs. Fighting terror. It may just be that all of these are related.

Cutting the deficit.
Being a superpower is similar to being a Broadway producer: Rule No. 1 is to use other people's money. So Europe, the Middle East and East Asia should be paying us, at least for Iraq. Just in Iraq, the bill due could be up to $200 billion, in the next five to 10 years. And that's just reconstruction.

The point is: The allies should pay. As they paid for most of the Gulf War, with Bush I. Or Kosovo, with Clinton.

If only because Bush II fails to grasp this lesson that his father applied in the first Iraq war, he demonstrates he is unsuited to be president.

I have no doubt Kerry could get them to pay this much. But would they pay more? For example, the European Union might now kick in for the entire cost of our bases in Europe. It may be true that the Europeans are already paying their "fair share." About 72 percent to our 28 percent. But life isn't always "fair." Let them pay it all.

But what about South Korea, Japan, India? They should be defraying our costs more. And if they think we'll act more sensibly, and multilaterally, they may.

The only country that is doing enough is of course China, which, at some financial sacrifice, is buying the Bush bonds that no one else wants to buy.

Creating jobs.
If our allies (or ex-allies) are willing to pay more than for Iraq, Kerry could use the "surcharge," or the temporary war tax, to create jobs. His cover with Congress? To fight the war on terror.

Here he has the Clinton model to follow: Whenever there was an earthquake, or a fire in California, Clinton would announce a relief program and then money on some public works program he thought desirable on other grounds. So the same rule should work with the war on terror.

Indeed, it seems to me Kerry is sensible to say, "Bush isn't doing enough on terror," precisely to give him cover to start creating jobs. Recently James K. Galbraith wrote a wonderful piece explaining that the real "American model" is using federal and state taxes and tax breaks to create private-sector jobs in health and education. It's what he called "Soft Keynesianism."

By "Soft Keynesianism," we give tax money, credits, loan guarantees, to hospitals, universities and other "quasi-public" institutions. It's in this "soft" sector, not in manufacturing, where America is now best at creating new jobs. If we have a jobless recovery, it's partly because we're cutting back, not paying out to the soft sector.

Or put another way, we are priming the wrong pump. At the federal level, we are creating a huge deficit, so we can go on making transfer payments to individuals. But in adding new jobs fast, these payments have a weak indirect effect. And while we have a war, we've got a lid on the size of the armed forces, so we get fewer jobs.

Indeed, as mandatory entitlements explode and Bush's tax cuts bite, we've got no choice at the federal level but to cut away at jobs in homeland security and defense. And when the states now ask Bush for help, he says no. What he doesn't grasp of course is that it's state and local government, not the federal government, directly, that is on the front line of creating jobs.

The answer?

President Kerry should seek a war tax for a labor-intensive war on terror. Educate and subsidize the hiring of more nurses, of all kinds. We have a shocking national shortage. Spend for new hospitals, since there are shortages in urban areas. Spend more on teachers, to teach languages, language skills.

Forgive or cancel student loans, to keep more kids in college, so colleges in turn will go out and hire more.

None of this should be done at the federal level, where the Republican Congress can quibble over it: Just give it to the states, in the name of national security, with broad guidelines as to how to spend it.

Fighting terror.
Here the problem is to reconstitute our alliance, which is in shambles, thanks to Bush. Yes, it's true, I'm a Democrat and inclined to think badly of him. But even I have difficulty grasping the scale of the damage to what used to be our alliance, to what should be our effort on terror.

First, he's metastasized al-Qaida. Thanks to Bush, it's now potentially everywhere. After 9/11, it would have been a great thing to track down bin Laden. Bring him to trial.

Decapitate al-Qaida. To most of us, including me, it still would be a great thing. But there's no longer much hope it can end al-Qaida. Cutting off that head now won't kill the body.

Why? Look at the polls. A recent Pew poll, surveying foreign opinion, comes as a shock. Suicide bombings in the U.S.? In Turkey, a NATO ally, 31 percent sympathize with the suicide bombers. With poll numbers like this, al-Qaida will live forever. A few years ago, we could have wiped it out.

Second, Bush has run a foreign policy that he thought would let us divide and conquer. Not our enemies: No, divide and conquer our own allies! We'd play off the Europeans. We'd have our favorites. We'd show them who's boss.

The result? Now al-Qaida can divide and conquer us. "Let's see, we'll target Spain." Is Britain next? Now al-Qaida can take advantage of the disunity Bush has sown. The terrorists are doing more regime changes than we are. And who let this happen? Bush.

Somehow a President Kerry has to stop this and restore the alliance. Here's how.

Since the Madrid bombing March 11, the Europeans have started to do what they have failed to do since the Treaty of Rome: seriously attempt to build up an EU security component. There is talk now of an EU "security council," even an EU CIA. Indeed, it now seems certain, with Spain's Prime Minister Aznar gone, there will be an EU constitution, based on some type of one person, one vote. (Spain and Poland had objected.)

Much better than an EU security council would be an EU prosecutor, and an EU court, to try terror cases. That, too, may come.

Even if it doesn't come, Kerry should make clear, in a dramatic, visible way, that he favors an EU-wide approach and dealing directly with the EU as much as possible. NATO is fine, of course, and we have to retain it. But if the EU acts, then every European country has cover.

It is not "Spain," or "Italy," or "Britain," Bush's poster children in the "coalition of the willing." Rather, it is the EU as a whole, the entire 340 million of them. Under Bush, we did not use NATO, even after it was offered for the war in Afghanistan, but a "coalition of the willing."

Indeed, we bragged about it: We don't need alliances anymore.

In fact, in the long run, we not only need alliances, like NATO, but we need to look beyond this to a new way of mediating between America and Europe. Not by committees and councils where different foreign governments jockey with each other. Not even by NATO, as much as we may need it for now.

We need to recognize the EU, and relate to it more directly, not in lieu of NATO, but in addition to it. After Madrid, the EU rejected, for now, setting up a single super CIA. But it's remarkable it was even on the table.

Events are moving fast. With Aznar gone, it's now much easier to have a single EU approach on terror.

The neoconservatives, of course, don't see it. Nor do they want it. Our neocons loved Aznar not only because Aznar gave us a small amount of help in Iraq, but because Aznar was blocking an EU constitution, a stronger and more united Europe.

In tossing him out, the Spanish voters did not "vote for al-Qaida." They voted out Aznar because they had always hated his support of Bush. Then after the attacks, Aznar and his party lied to them.

All Aznar had to do was tell the truth: Say it was al-Qaida. And it seems likely his party would have won, maybe in a landslide. To some neocons, it's a shock that voters might toss out a party like Aznar's for lying as it did. Would we reject Bush if he lied about Iraq?

Our neocons don't seem to grasp that the dynamic works differently in Europe.

If the Spanish voters could have done one single thing to help the war on terror, it would have been to remove Aznar, who almost by himself was blocking an EU-wide constitution, and as a result, a more effective EU-wide approach on terror. Ironically, in the long run, because a stronger EU is now possible, it may be that nothing could have helped the war on terror more than the defeat of Aznar's party.

And it will help if a President Kerry makes clear that, with Bush gone, he will also support a more centralized EU-wide approach on terror. Help Europe get stronger: Don't mock it, belittle it, at the same time trying to play off one European ally against the other, or even worse, winking at those trying to block a stronger EU.

That's what Europeans, and others, would get for their money: an America that is committed to uniting and not dividing them -- and a renewed Western alliance. We might, also, by the way, make the world safer too.

Thomas Geoghegan

Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago lawyer, is the author of "In America's Court" and "Which Side Are You On?"

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