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.