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Small Kerry Boast Brings Big Bush Attack

Kerry's "strategy to win the war on terror" is puffery; Bush's response is much ado about ten words.

July 7, 2004

Modified: July 16, 2004

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Summary

 

Kerry released an ad June 30 briefly boasting that he's "author of a strategy to win the war on terror," a reference to his book, The New War. The next day, the Bush campaign attacked that claim with ferocity: in a new TV ad, a news release and conference call with reporters. Both ads are exaggerations.

Kerry's ad contained some puffery. Just as the Bush ad states, Kerry's 1997 book never mentions Osama bin Laden, focuses mainly on the problem of international crime, and offers no plan for a "war on terror." Kerry HAS outlined such a strategy, but it was in a speech in February 2004, not in 1997.

The Bush response is also exaggeration, if not downright overkill. The Bush ad is a full 30-second spot, ten times longer than the 3-second, 10-word reference in the Kerry ad.

The Bush ad strongly implies that Kerry "doesn't know the enemy" when in fact Kerry offered this warning in his book: "It will take only one mega terrorist event in any of the great cities of the world to change the world in a single day." At the time, Bush was governor of Texas and saying nothing of note about Muslim terrorists himself.

The Bush ad also says Kerry's book "calls Yasser Arafat a 'statesman.'" That's true -- but the ad ignores the fact that Arafat had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 -- three years prior to Kerry's book -- and was still being treated as a Palestinian leader both by the US and Israel.

Analysis

 

It’s true that Kerry engaged in some puffery about his 1997 book, The New War, which did in fact focus on global crime rather than terrorism. But exaggeration marks the Bush ad, too.

John Kerry for President
"Pilot"

Announcer: He's a husband and a father. A pilot, a hunter, a hockey player. Tough prosecutor, advocate for kids. Nineteen years, Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Author of a strategy to win the war on terror. A combat veteran who has been praised by former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both Presidents Reagan and Clinton.

Announcer: Stronger at home. Respected in the world. John Kerry for President.

Kerry: I am John Kerry and I approve this message.

Focus on Crime, Not Terror: True

The Kerry ad shows the cover of Kerry's book while the narrator describes the candidate as author of an anti-terrorism strategy. Although the words spoken in the ad don't say so, the picture on the screen suggests that it is the book that contains the "strategy" -- which it doesn't.

The book doesn't even claim to be an anti-terrorism plan. The first line on the inside cover of the book describes it as “ a powerful warning that global crime is robbing us not only of our money but also of our way of life ” (original emphasis).

To be fair, one of the book’s nine chapters titled "The Globalization of Terror” does warn of a future terrorist attack on a major city, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction. On page 111 Kerry says:

Kerry: It will take only one mega terrorist event in any of the great cities of the world to change the world in a single day. As we shall see , that event could be nuclear or could just as easily occur on the Internet, but whether our sense of secure well-being ends with a bang or a whimper will not be the cause of the debate.

Still, that chapter describes the threat but doesn’t go into detail about combating it. In the final chapter Kerry outlines a plan to win the “war against global crime,” not terrorism.

In support of the ad, the Kerry campaign issued a release summarizing Kerry's proposals to combat terrorism, but these were absent from Kerry's book.

Bush Cheney '04

"Yakuza"

Bush: I'm George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: John Kerry says he's 'Author of a strategy to win the war on terror?'...Against the Japanese yakuza.

Never mentions Al-Qaeda. Says nothing about Osama Bin Laden.

Calls Yasser Arafat a "statesman."

The New Republic says Kerry's plan "misses the mark." And Kerry's focus? Global crime, not terrorism. How can John Kerry win a war if he doesn't know the enemy?

"Doesn't Know the Enemy?"

The Bush ad is also exaggerated, implying that Kerry “doesn’t know the enemy.” In fact,  Kerry issued a seven-point plan in February to combat terrorism, with a particular emphasis on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Kerry also served 19 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- with access to classified briefings -- and for one term chaired the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations.

Furthermore, Bush is equally open to a charge of failing to say anything in 1997 about al  Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or terrorism. During the Bush campaign’s press conference last week attacking Kerry’s book, a reporter asked a spokesman if they “have any public record of President Bush’s thoughts in 1997.” The answer: “In 1997, we’ll be happy to look . . ." Our own search of the computerized archives of major news publications brings up no reference to Bush mentioning "al Qaeda" or “Osama bin Laden” that year.

The Japanese Yakuza? Barely

The Bush ad says Kerry’s strategy is really aimed "against the Japanese yakuza," a mob group based in that country. The Bush campaign even titled the ad "Yakuza." The claim is based on an unflattering review of Kerry's book published this year by  The New Republic magazine. In it, author Michael Crowley writes:

Crowley: If the future Kerry predicted really had arrived, we’d currently be locked in a vicious cyber war with CD-pirating Japanese yakuza, Chinese kidney-traders, and Italian mobsters—not hunting Islamic fundamentalists potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction.

In fact, Kerry's book barely mentions the yakuza. While full chapters describe the threat posed by the Russian mafia, Chinese triads, and the Columbian cartels, the yakuza simply get a handful of paragraphs here and there.

Arafat a "statesman?" Yes, but . . .

The Bush ad says Kerry's book "calls Yasser Arafat a 'statesman,'" but it would be equally true to say it called Arafat a former "outlaw."

 

In fact, Kerry's book makes only one reference to Arafat, on page 112:

Kerry: Terrorist organizations with specific political agendas may be encouraged and emboldened by Yasser Arafat's transformation from outlaw to statesman , while those whose only object is to disrupt society require no such "role models."

At the time Kerry wrote that, Arafat indeed looked much more statesmanlike than he does now. Four years earlier, on Sept. 13, 1993, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the historic Oslo Accords on the front lawn of the White House. The two even shook hands. The accords gave the Palestinians a measure of self-rule and, in return, recognized Israel's right to exist, and set in motion a peace process that was supposed to yield a final peace agreement. For that, Arafat, Rabin, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. And Palestinian elections took place in 1996, with Arafat elected President of the Palestinian Authority. It was in that historic context that Kerry wrote of Arafat as being an "outlaw" turned "statesman."

 

In fact, Arafat continued to be treated as a leader by the US and Israel until long after Kerry's book appeared. In January 1998 Arafat was received by Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet as part of an effort to revive stalled peace talks. It wasn't until more than two years after that -- July 25, 2000 -- that Arafat walked away from a 14-day peace summit at Camp David, refusing a land-for-peace offer extended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. And not until September of that year did the the cycle of bloody Palestinian-Israeli violence resume and reach levels unseen since the 1980's.

Sources

 

John Kerry. The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America's Security . New York: Simon and Schuster. 1997.

Steve Schmidt. "Former National Security Council Staff Member Dr. Richard Falkenrath Hosts a Press Conference Call to Preview a New Bush-Cheney '04 Ad Examining Kerry's Strategy to Win the War on Terror." 1 July 2004.

Michael Crowley. "Kerry's Odd Book on Terrorism." The New Republic , 9 Feb 2004: 13.

Jodi Wilgoren. "Kerry Pushes Image of an All-Around, Intelligent Guy." New York Times , 1 July 2004: A18.

Barton Gellman, "Arafat Is Urged To Accept U.S. Security Plan; Clinton Offers Pledge On West Bank Issues," Washington Post , 23 Jan 1998: A1.

Lee Hockstader, "Mideast Peace Summit Ends With No Deal; For 1st Time, Leaders Addressed Region's Most Corrosive Issues," Washington Post , 26 July 2000: A1.

Lee Hockstader, "Middle East Bloodshed Mounts; 12 Palestinians Die After Israeli Troops Open Fire," Washington Post , 30 Sept 2000: A1.