What does “Global” Mean?
Detractors of John Kerry are making much of this passage in his Thursday debate with George W. Bush:
KERRY: The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control.
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.
Here we have our own secretary of state who has had to apologize to the world for the presentation he made to the United Nations.
KERRY: I mean, we can remember when President Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis sent his secretary of state to Paris to meet with DeGaulle. And in the middle of the discussion, to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, he said, “Here, let me show you the photos.” And DeGaulle waved them off and said, “No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me.”
How many leaders in the world today would respond to us, as a result of what we’ve done, in that way?
The attack ads and pundits are accusing Kerry of saying that any US military action must in his view meet a “global test” in the sense of being approved by the world community. George W. Bush has taken up this line and castigated what he calls a “Kerry doctrine” that you can’t go to war without global permission. Dr. Condaleeza Rice, who rather amusingly suggested she was staying above the political fray, said on Wolf Blitzer that Kerry intended to constrain US policy by making it dependent on the concord of countries like Cuba. (The fact that Cuba and Libya are in the UN is often used by unilateralists to denigrate it, even though neither country is typically on the Security Council and only five countries have the veto, including the US).
Kerry very clearly meant no such thing. He started by saying that he would not give up the prerogative of going to war preemptively. How much clearer could he have been? Bush has invented a so-called “Kerry doctrine” out of the air. Obviously, Kerry’s critics need a better dictionary. They don’t know what “global” means. Let us look, for instance, at Merriam-Webster Online.
Main Entry: glob·al
1 : SPHERICAL
2 : of, relating to, or involving the entire world : WORLDWIDE (global warfare) (a global system of communication); also : of or relating to a celestial body (as the moon)
3 : of, relating to, or applying to a whole (as a mathematical function or a computer program) (a global search of a file)
- glob·al·ly /’glO-b&-lE/ adverb
Kerry said, “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.”
What does “global” mean in this sentence? Well, let’s work down. It clearly does not mean “spherical,” so that is out.
But it clearly also cannot mean “worldwide,” which is what the attack ads, and Condi Rice, are implying. The “global test” Kerry speaks of relates in his mind to convincing “your countrymen” of the legitimacy of what you are doing, first and foremost. Convincing your own citizens cannot possibly be a “worldwide” matter. It is only in the last clause of the sentence where the rest of the world comes up. And there, Kerry is not suggesting that it be asked its opinion beforehand. He used the past tense. He is saying that only by first passing the global test with Americans could the US hope, after the fact, to prove to the world that what had been done was legitimate. W. from all accounts was never much good with things like tenses of verbs.
So, if “global” here does not mean “spherical” and does not mean “worldwide,” then what does it mean? Kerry was obviously using the word in the third sense above, of “complete.” Military action has to pass a complete test, in order to gain the entire confidence of the US public, in preparation for making a convincing case in the aftermath of the war to other countries.
Kerry is saying that Bush’s reasons for going to war were flawed and incomplete, so that in some polls less than half of Americans now say it was justified. And if less than half of Americans can justify it, you can hardly expect that the Spanish should go on giving gold and lives for its sake. This unfortunate situation, Kerry is saying, is because the rationale for the war was deficient, incomplete, and less than global in the sense of thoroughgoing.
W. probably couldn’t get out a word like “thoroughgoing” without tripping all over it, so Kerry did him a favor in using the shorter word “global.” Unfortunately, W.’s dictionary doesn’t seem to go all the way down to the third meaning of the word, which is the one Kerry used. Misunderstanding Kerry’s “global” to mean “worldwide” is just as bad an error as misunderstanding it to mean “spherical.” If Bush came out attacking Kerry for proposing a “round test,” and insisting the test must be square, it wouldn’t be less silly than what he is doing. Dr. Rice, who was provost at Stanford, knows better, but some persons with “Dr.” before their name–one thinks of Faustus– have long ago signed away their souls.