Monday, October 04, 2004

"Global Test:" The Vocabulary Test

In the immediate post-debate coverage, a murmur went through the lefty blogosphere that perhaps Kerry shouldn't have used the words "global test." Perhaps, despite Kerry's stellar overall debate performance, the Bush campaign would be able to tear him down by focusing their rage and contempt on those two words.

President Bush said Saturday Democrat John Kerry's debate remark that U.S. preemptive military action should be subject to a "global test" would give other nations a veto over American national security decisions. [...]

"When our country's in danger the president's job is not to take an international poll. The president's job is to defend America," Bush said.
The further-right wing have taken up that ball and run with it, of course, because the whole idea of a global anything pushes their UN/black helicopter/world government buttons. The temptation for the left, of course, is to respond to these attacks by defending internationalism.

But am I the only one who didn't read Kerry's words that way at all?
No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.

But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons. [emphasis mine.]
The word "global" is often used as a synonym for "international," yes. But it's also the opposite of "specific." I think Kerry meant to use the word in that second sense. I think he meant that there are no specific parameters under which you can say that preemptive war is okay - that instead, there's a global, or overarching, requirement that you must be able to prove that your rationale is sound and evidence-based. No other interpretation makes sense in light of the rest of the clause, which refers to the opinions of "your countrymen, your people." It's also consistent with the Kerry campaign's restatement of his point:
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer defended Kerry's comment by saying: "The global test is not asking for a permission slip. It's making sure that your decisions stand up to scrutiny and are backed by facts."
At the debate, Kerry unfortunately went on to give an internationalist example, flowing from the second part of his sentence - "you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons." He contrasts the international credibility the U.S. had during the Cuban Missile Crisis with the embarrassment of Colin Powell presenting "evidence" to the United Nations that the Administration already knew was highly suspect. It's an excellent example, but it does add ammunition to the Bush campaign's misinterpretation of his point.

What was Bush's initial response to the "global test" remark? He said:
Let me -- I'm not exactly sure what you mean, "passes the global test," you take preemptive action if you pass a global test.
I think that's true. I think that Bush heard "global," thought "international," and was not aware that the word "global" has an additional meaning. And actually, I blame Kerry for using a word that was open to misinterpretation. Now, I use the word "global" in the sense of "general" all the time - I might describe a patient as having "global deficits in cognition," for example - but in a foreign policy debate, you can't really blame people for thinking of the actual globe.

William Saletan is trying to put the focus back where it belongs.
Listen to Bush's words again. "The president's job is not to take an international poll," he says. "Our national security decisions will be made in the Oval Office, not in foreign capitals." Bush doesn't say these decisions belong to the United States. He says they belong to the Oval Office. He frames this as patriotism, boasting that he doesn't care whether he offers evidence sufficient to convince people in France. He shows no awareness or concern that evidence is also necessary to convince people in Ohio. He says it isn't his job to take a "poll," to hear what others think. He needs no validation.
Let's hope it sticks, but I don't think it will. The echo chamber of the press is awfully strong.