Amusing foreign guests with platitudes but no platforms

Published July 28, 2004 8:58PM (EDT)

Hundreds of diplomats, politicians and journalists from dozens of nations gathered at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., on Wednesday morning, presumably expecting to be enlightened about John Kerry's foreign policy positions. The foreign guests were invited to Cambridge for an international leadership conference hosted by the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit group loosely affiliated with the Democratic Party that describes itself as "working to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide."

Lined up on the dais were no fewer than seven high-ranking Kerry advisors, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Rand Beers, who resigned last year from the National Security Council to work for Kerry. But while the discussion went on for well over an hour, few specific policies were mentioned, and most of the remarks were devoted to praising Kerry as an "internationalist" candidate who would seek to restore America's standing in the world -- the same vague formulation that appears in every stump speech.

In her opening remarks, Albright promised that the panel would offer insight into the way policy is made in a presidential campaign. What followed fell well short of what she had advertised, but her own remarks certainly amused the audience of Europeans, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. Pulling out a page from the 2000 Republican platform, she began to read: "The arrogance, inconsistency, and unreliability of the administration's diplomacy have undermined American alliances, alienated friends and emboldened our adversaries." She paused to acknowledge the loud laughter. Then she went on: "Over the past seven years, a shrunken American military has been run ragged by a deployment tempo that has eroded its military readiness. Many units have seen their operational requirements increased fourfold, wearing out both people and equipment." More laughter.

After reading a few more telling selections on intelligence and international cooperation, Albright said, "I cite these statements not to make a partisan point" -- as the audience roared again -- "but to demonstrate that there is a good deal of continuity in American foreign policy."

Ironically, Holbrooke described Kerry as the "candidate best prepared to be president in recent times since the first President Bush," whose sophistication and interest in other countries "unfortunately never rubbed off on his son." That son's administration, he said, had brought about a "catastrophic diminution in American influence in the world."

Among those listening to Holbrooke and the other panelists was Robin Cook, the former British foreign minister who resigned in protest against his government's support for the Iraq war. If Cook hoped to learn how Kerry will extricate the "coalition of the willing" from Baghdad, he was probably disappointed.

By Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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