by Malcolm Curtis (malcolm-curtis.com)
An obstacle on the tracks held up United States Senator Tim Kaine but it didn’t stop him from speaking to the American International Club of Geneva on May 28, even if he missed out on the lunch.
Kaine took the TGV from Paris but the train arrived late because of the high-speed rail snafu.
The 56-year-old Harvard Law School graduate turned up at the Hotel InterContinental and after barely pausing to apologize for the delay launched into a speech about where America’s at when it comes to foreign policy.
Pundits from the press are asking, “Is America withdrawing from the world?” the Democratic Party senator acknowledged.
“I would say we are soul searching,” said Kaine, who described himself as an “odd bird” because he has served as a town mayor, governor of Virginia and, since 2012, US senator for the same state.
Kaine, who serves on the armed services, budget and foreign relations committees, noted that the US has spent 13 years at war and is set to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan at the end of the year.
The invasion by the US and allied forces of Afghanistan resulted in the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist organization that claimed responsibility for the 9-11 attacks on the US.
“I don’t think we need to be embarrassed about what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Kaine said of the American mission in Afghanistan, begun in 2001.
“The life expectancy of the Afghani population has gone up 17 years just in the decade we’ve been there.”
American military presence has allowed for improvements in health care and the status of women in the country, of which “we can be proud”.
By contrast, Kaine said, the American invasion of Iraq will go down “as one of the worst decisions” made by the US government.
Congress gave the president power in a 60-word resolution to take action against those responsible for 9-11, he said.
But this was interpreted to include affiliates or associated organizations of al-Qaeda and has resulted in “open-ended war . . . which clearly went beyond the bounds of what Congress intended.”
Kaine said the US should not be “in a permanent state of war . . . we are entitled to a V-J Day.”
He said America needs a policy “that’s bigger than the war on terror . . . it’s not big enough a policy for a country as great as we are”.
The US senator for Virginia also talked about the need for the US to be an exemplary nation that is proudly “pro-immigrant,” observing that Americans have long got over being xenophobic about immigration.
And at a time when other governments are cracking down on the Internet, the US can be an exemplar for openness of information, he said.
That accords with the great Jeffersonian principle that enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic, he indicated.
“Jefferson couldn’t anticipate the Internet but we are living in a Jeffersonian world.”
The US needed to learn some lessons from the 20th century “when Americans did a lot of good,” without leaning too heavily on military might, Kaine said.
He’d rather see the US as an “exemplary nation than an indispensable nation.”
That means having to tackle growing inequality in the country, he said.
But Kaine said he is not pessimistic about the US finding its way, noting that Americans are more engaged diplomatically than ever in dealing with issues in Iran, Israel and Syria.
Kaine said it is important to deal with Iran with “trust-building steps” to make sure they don’t have nuclear weapons.
With regard to Americans abroad, he acknowledged they are “out of sight, out of mind” in Washington.
But the government “should be thinking about you as ambassadors”.
He suggested American expats could have an impact with their votes in targeted congressional elections, where some races are decided by less than 10,000 votes.
And in response to a question about the double taxation of Americans living abroad, Kaine said there was a need for broad-based tax reform, something which has not been done since the Reagan administration.
While looking at such reform it would be the perfect time to be looking at whether Americans should be taxed based on where they live rather than on citizenship, he said.
“When are you running for president?” one AIC member asked.
“After I get a divorce,” Kaine replied, to laughter, “never.”