Bruce Fein: John Kerry’s Afghan Dereliction of Duty

Senator John Kerry has convicted himself of constitutional dereliction over Afghanistan.

In 1970, the Vietnam vet accelerated disengagement with electrifying testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But in 2010, as Chairman of that same Committee, Kerry has played idle spectator to the objectless, trillion dollar, 10-year-old war in Afghanistan that is making the United States less safe and less free. Detainees at Bagram prison are denied habeas corpus. According to a survey published by the New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow, 76% of inhabitants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan oppose U.S. predator drone strikes, 50% believe they kill mostly civilians, and 60% believe suicide bombings against the U.S. military are “often or sometimes justified.” Afghanistan remains splintered by time-honored tribal and ethnic divisions. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent. The unpopular Karzai administration is up to its neck in electoral fraud, corruption, and nepotism. President Karzai’s decree prohibiting private security contractors is paralyzing NGOs and the economy. Huge sums make their way through subcontracts to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Pakistan is more a saboteur than a friend to United States objectives in Afghanistan. President Obama’s special emissary, Richard Holbrooke, is unable to define success beyond, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

Oversight hearings hold the potential for triggering a withdrawal of all United States troops stationed in Afghanistan, which would save American and Afghan lives, enhance national security, and discredit the canard that to desist from preemptive warring against radical Islam in Afghanistan is to invite fighting Islamic extremists on the streets of Washington, D.C. The latter myth is indistinguishable from the bogus “Domino Theory” concocted to justify the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall records the 58,178 American lives wasted in that ill-conceived military misadventure.

If Senator Kerry does nothing in the face of incontrovertible evidence that the Afghan War is both unwinnable and a war of choice, not of necessity, he will share in the moral and legal responsibility for the inevitable construction of an Afghanistan Veterans Memorial Wall. The hallowed dead will have died there to enable small-minded politicians to parade their false “toughness on international terrorism” credentials. Dante preached that, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, declare their neutrality.” As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Kerry, of all people, cannot wash his hands like Pontius Pilate of the senseless killings in Afghanistan.

Oversight is a constitutional duty of the legislative branch to discharge its informing function–especially during war when truth is invariably the first casualty and courageous men and women are dispatched abroad to risk that last full measure of devotion. During World War I, former President Theodore Roosevelt declared: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else.” Further, Congress appropriated hundreds of billions of dollars for the Afghan war, and gave legal footing to the same in passing the Authorization to Use Military Force in the wake of 9/11.

The series of Vietnam War hearings conducted by Kerry’s predecessor, J. William Fulbright, beginning with six days of televised proceedings in February 1966, exposed the war’s flawed premises and accelerated the departure of American troops. No “Dominoes” fell. In 1979, Communist China attacked Vietnam, and the two remain at loggerheads over the South China Sea. Russia abandoned its Vietnam naval base at Cam Ranh Bay. And the United States granted Vietnam most favored nation trading privileges. Instead of the Armageddon forecast by marquee national security pundits, the United States defeat in Vietnam was followed by a build-up of U.S. defenses and the disintegration of the Soviet Empire in 1991.

Kerry should re-read his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, eloquently urging a withdrawal of United States forces from Vietnam, as he contemplates his duty in Afghanistan:

In our [returning Vietnam Veterans'] opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.

Similarly, Afghanistan is no existential threat to the United States. Michael E. Leiter, a counterterrorism maven, has reported that American intelligence officials estimate somewhat “more than 300″ Al Qaeda leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas. C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, reports about 50 to 100 Al Qaeda operatives now in Afghanistan. Thus, fewer than 500 members of the group are in a region where the United States has deployed nearly 100,000 troops, plus an equal number of contractors, supported by an escalating number of predator drones to fight a perpetual war against international terrorism. If the same troop-to-enemy ratio were employed in World War II, the United States would have fielded armed forces surpassing 3.4 billion against Germany and Japan. That would have required multiplying the population by 25 and conscripting them all! Further, in contrast to Al Qaeda, Japan and Germany brandished strong industrial bases, scientists skilled at weapons development, and the power to tax large populations. To paraphrase your April 22 testimony, any attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Afghanistan by linking such loss to preventing a fantasized invasion of the United States by international terrorists is the height of criminal folly.

Kerry further testified:

Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, ‘the first President to lose a war.’

Afghanistan is no different. Each day some American has to give up his life so that the United States can avoid admitting something the whole world knows–that the United States is on a fool’s errand reminiscent of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Allied countries, including the Netherlands, Canada, and Poland, are diminishing, not augmenting, combat forces there.

Kerry continued to elaborate before Senator Fulbright that the United States possessed armed forces sufficient to deter or to thwart any threat to the homeland without extending its defense perimeter thousands of miles from American shores:

[A]s long as we have the kind of strike force we have…which we of the public know we have, I think we have a strike force of such capability and I think we have a strike force simply in our Polaris submarines, in the 62 or some Polaris submarines, which we are constantly roaming around under the sea. And I know as a Navy man that underwater detection is the hardest kind in the world, and they have not perfected it, that we have the ability to destroy the human race. Why do we have to, therefore, consider and keep considering threats?…Therefore, I think it is ridiculous to assume we have to play this power game based on total warfare…[W]e must learn in this country how to define those [legitimate] threats and that is what I would say to the question of world peace. I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The Communists are not about to take over our McDonald’s hamburger stands.

In an earlier time, William Butler Yeats lamented that, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Like the heroes featured in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, Kerry confronts a momentous choice: either honor his words before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, or turn a deaf ear to the voices asking why their loved ones died in Afghanistan.

From The Huffington Post

3 Responses to "Bruce Fein: John Kerry’s Afghan Dereliction of Duty"

  1. Karenc  October 25, 2010 at 11:37 am

    The author ignores in his article that John Kerry has held 12 hearings on Afghanistan since he became Chair of SFRC, including one that heard from soldiers who served in Afghanistan. There were a series of 4 hearings later in fall 2009 leading up to a speech before the CFR with his recommendations on Afghanistan. Although Obama got advice from Kerry, Reed and Biden, he sided with the more hawkish Clinton, Gates, and McChrystal and went ahead with a surge that many who spoke before Kerry’s committee had warned might not have the needed Afghan “good governance” and security behind it to succeed. Kerrry’s cautions were public and known.

    Two recent hearings addressed problems. He sharply questioned Holbrooke over the policy and pointed out that the then future effort in Kandahar was starting with more attacks on people supporting us than had been the case in Marjah. . http://for­eign.senat­e.gov/hear­ings/heari­ng/?id=6e4­bb067-5056­-a032-521f­-a829d8b3f­86c Shortly after he had another hearing where he again addressed problems – http://for­eign.senat­e.gov/hear­ings/heari­ng/?id=d86­05299-5056­-a032-5273­-667a814db­0c8

    One clue that Kerry is fully aware of the standard his 1971 comments set and his current responsibility is that he released declassified Vietnam era SFRC hearings, noting concerns were raised in private – long before they were released in public.

    So far, if you compare the hearings Fullbright held to Kerry’s, there seems to be no justification in accusing either of not doing their job.

  2. Jim  October 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    The above editorial is based on the false assumption that Senator Kerry’s opposition to the Vietnam War was based on his principles. Based on the fact that while in Vietnam Senator Kerry had told his comrades that his goal in life was to be the next JFK to become President, I believe his whole involvement in anti-war protests were just part of a plan to win nominations from the Democratic party.

    Indeed, his proclaimed anti-war policy is contrary to his self-proclaimed actions of running down an unarmed Viet Cong soldier and killing him in order to take the man’s spent (and non-reusable) rocket launcher as a war trophy.

    His speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial a few months before he announced his run for presidency is filled with statements contradicting his statements at the Congressional hearings in 1972.

    • Karenc  October 26, 2010 at 11:15 am

      The fact is that it was people who lie on other things that said that Kerry wanted to be the next JFK.

      The fact is that if Kerry’s goal was to become President at any cost and with no principles, there was a far easier path – that had to be obvious to him. He was a decorate war hero. The stories behind his two medals have the quality of 1940 movies. He earned his bronze star risking his life to save a marine. The silver star, he earned by working out an alternative to being a sitting duck when they ran into an ambush. These are the official Navy stories.

      Here is the path he could have taken. Return to the US and start law school, which he intended to do. He could then have done exactly what he did do – which was to become a prosecutor and quickly the first deputy essentially running the DA’s office. He could have done exactly what he did – got a conviction of a top MAFIA person and modernized the office leading to clearing a large backlog. He could also have done what he did – which was to hire an unprecedented number of women as prosecutors.

      Then, using his Yale and Forbes connections, many of whom were Republican – ran as a Republican for the Senate. This would have been at a younger age than he when he actually did run. His eloquence, his war record (which as a Republican would not be challenged), his work as a prosecutor would have gotten him elected – even if he had stayed in MA.

      It is entirely possible that Reagan would have chosen this charismatic Senator with the history he brought with him as his VP over the boring GHWB. He then might have noted that his famous quote about a “shining city on the hill” was first spoken by the First governor, who Kerry is directly related to. If not, he clearly would have been an attractive alternative to Dole – and would have been a serious threat to Clinton.

      But, the fact is that Kerry’s principles and beliefs are consistent with his foreign policy speech at Yale. He also followed his principles to investigate both the Contras and BCCI. Neither likely to make him President. There are people you can claim really did want the office just to have it – GWB and Clinton are two you can make that case for. Kerry is not.

      Your story on the North Vietnamese soldier is false and was directly refuted by the Chicago Tribune editor, who was the only other living skipper from that mission. Kerry shot him, as he pointed a live grenade launcher at one of the swiftboats – saving the life of the men on it.

      Kerry’s beautiful comments at the VN memorial in no way contradict his 1971 testimony. The RW distorted that testimony by playing PART of a sentence. Kerry was called to the committee to report what was said at the winter soldier “hearings’ – and Kerry started the sentence by saying that men spoke of – then listed the part the RW replays. The fact is the transcript of what was said includes all of the things Kerry said – and that transcript was given to the committee.

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