August was a very bad month for John Kerry--and not just because of the Swifties:
"If you were to say what was the pivotal moment in August, I don't think it included Swift boats," Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said. "I think it was the back-and-forth between the president and Senator Kerry over Iraq."
Though Kerry is correct when he says he always held a different view on Iraq, especially an unwavering insistence that the United States should have built a much broader international coalition before attacking Hussein and occupying a foreign country, the candidate's comments throughout August served only to complicate his case, several Democratic operatives said.
In addition to the debate over the Iraq vote, Kerry was reluctantly pulled into a broader discussion during the first two weeks of August over whether he, like Bush, would have gone to war with Iraq if he were president now. At first Kerry said maybe. Then Jamie Rubin, the candidate's national security adviser, said that "in all probability" a Kerry administration would have waged war to depose Hussein by now. Several Kerry friends and advisers considered Rubin's comment a mistake, but the campaign did not issue a retraction until weeks later -- on Aug. 24.
Tony Coelho, who chaired Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, said he was "very disgusted" by how Kerry's top advisers handled the Iraq debate last month. "You are paying these guys a lot of damn money. If Kerry is screwing up, where is our Karl Rove?"
Er, non-extant, I guess.
Meanwhile, Kerry's latest (I've honestly lost track) position on Iraq is very Howard Deanesque--the boys are gonna come home by the end of his first term.
If you've been reading B.D. over the past months--you know that I have pretty much believed that to be Kerry's going forward Iraq position all along. This isn't because B.D. is a great reader of tea leaves and such. After all, he was saying stuff like this back in early August:
In interviews on television talk shows, the Democratic presidential nominee said that he saw no reason to send more troops to Iraq and that he would seek allied support to draw down U.S. forces there. "I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops," he said on ABC's "This Week." Kerry accused President Bush of misleading the country before the war in Iraq, burning bridges with U.S. allies and having no plan to win peace. But when questioned about saying Thursday in his acceptance speech, "I know what we have to do in Iraq," he would not tip his hand.
"I've been involved in this for a long time, longer than George Bush," he said. "I've spent 20 years negotiating, working, fighting for different kinds of treaties and different relationships around the world. I know that as president there's huge leverage that will be available to me, enormous cards to play, and I'm not going to play them in public. I'm not going to play them before I'm president."
Reminded that he sounded like Richard M. Nixon, who campaigned in 1968 by saying he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, Kerry responded: "I don't care what it sounds like. The fact is that I'm not going to negotiate in public today without the presidency, without the power."
Kerry previously has discussed his desire to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq but declined to attach any timetable to that goal.
Now, of course, Kerry has gone further:
Asked about Iraq, Mr Kerry declared it to be “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”, and Mr Bush’s “most catastrophic” wrong choice. Although he said recently that he hoped to bring a “significant number” of US troops home from Iraq in his first term as President, Mr Kerry went much farther. “My goal would be to bring them home in my first term, and I believe that can be done,” he said. Mr Kerry has repeatedly criticised Mr Bush’s handling of the war but has struggled to explain why he voted to give Mr Bush the authority to invade Iraq before voting against an $87 billion (£49 billion) request to fund troops and reconstruction costs.
Last month he perplexed many Democrats when he said that he would still have voted to authorise Mr Bush to invade even had he known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found.
Look, we all want the G.I.s back home. And, of course, it might be helpful (to a fashion) to signal that the U.S. does not intend to keep U.S. forces in Iraq on a quasi-permanent basis. For instance, some in the Arab and Islamic world (not least Iraq)--to the extent they bought into Kerry's comments--would have one fewer conspiracy theory to help stoke some of the anti-Americanism in the region (namely, that the U.S. invaded Iraq to maintain permanent military bases in the region). But, of course, the much more likely impact of such statements, in highly problematic places like Anbar province or increasingly Beirut-like Sadr City, is to smell weakness and, as Sully put it, make possible failure in Iraq a "self-defeating prophecy." You simply don't, in the middle of a war, announce a withdrawal timetable like this (Nixon's 'peace with honor' was much further into the Vietnam conflict).
You know, Kerry, after getting advice from Clinton's sick-bed, was supposed to drop Vietnam and move the debate to domestic issues (traditional soi disant "Democrat" issues like the economy and health care). One ingenious way to do this was Kerry's new line about the $200 billion allegedly squandered in Iraq and how these funds could have been used for more critical domestic needs.
But, as is his wont, Kerry effed it up. Instead of sounding like Clinton--he took Clinton's advice and came off sounding like Howard Dean. It's not just, per Tony Coehlo, that Kerry has no Karl Rove. The candidate himself is making, repeatedly, serious mistakes. You can't just blame the dearth of Dem Karl Roves for all these going-ons.
One final note. There was a little brouhaha last night about Cheney's comments about the perils of a Kerry victory. As I'm in the States, I caught Edward's reaction last night on a cable news show. Whatever you make of Cheney's comments, Edwards (during his response) looked young, under pressure, and even a tad panicky. It was not an impressive performance--the seasoned, silver-tounged, smart trial lawyer this wasn't. Instead, he looked fidgety and non-convincing. Not a major Kerry asset right now, I'm afraid.
Make no mistake. This is a campaign in pretty serious trouble right now. If they're going to turn it around--they need to do so damn quickly. But I'm not sure the candidates or their advisors have the requisite street smarts, conviction on key foreign policy issues, and general mojo to pull it off right now.
MORE: There might be hope for Mr. Kerry. Nicholas von Hoffman thinks he's in trouble--so maybe all is well!
Meanwhile, NY money is getting worried too.
Just to clarify. Yeah, I obviously think Kerry is in real trouble. But Bush's lead in polls is most recently looking to only be around 2-3% (the post-convention bounce is diminishing quite rapidly). It is still anyone's race...
Posted by Gregory Djerejian at September 8, 2004 04:48 AM