September 08, 2004

Kerry's August

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 at September 8, 2004 04:48 AM

I don't think Mr. Kerry's Iraq plan will survive first contact with reality. President Chirac, Prime Minister Zapatero, and Chancellor Schroeder have already promised not to send troops to Iraq -- no matter who is U.S. President -- and I honestly believe them. Therefore, my favored candidate Mr. Kerry, not the President, is the one with the "fraudulent" coalition. Mr. Kerry's plan, not the President's, is the "phoniest thing you've ever seen."

For various reasons, Iraqis don't like the sense of "occupation" (sorry, Mr. Miller) by foreign troops. Also, the bad guys have shown no interest in the nationality of those troops -- they're killing them, and even killing neutral noncombatant aid workers, regardless of nationality. So while I admit that I previously had an unrealistic timetable for Iraqification, I still think that Iraqification is the best way to achieve "peace with victory" and bring our troops home. The legitimate authorities in Iraq need our help right now, but ultimately Iraq has to learn how to fight and win its own war against the enemies of Iraqi freedom.

Posted by: Arjun at September 8, 2004 01:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

G.D.:"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."

My Comment: who knows... with Kerry's recent statement on iraq (which has the effect of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, much like what he did in his testimony on vietnam during the 70s), and combined a Tet-like offensive by the militants in iraq around October, this might spook the voters enough to vote for Kerry.

All I know is that his statements give the insurgents there hope, hope of victory if they stay long enough.

by saying what he said, kerry is telegraphing his moves to sadr and zarqawi. now all the insurgents have to do is to cause major havoc in iraq around october... and scare the bejezzus out of the american voters.

and I wonder how the returning troops would be treated home if kerry wins and decides to cut and run?

will they be treated the same way like the vietnam vets in the 70s?

Posted by: john marzan at September 8, 2004 02:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do you have any empirical support for your claims?

Because from where I sit, the polls are now even.

Jamie Rubin, by the way, has been replaced by Susan Rice, so you're using outdated information.

Posted by: praktike at September 8, 2004 02:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Basically, all that matters to Kerry is that he get the troops out of Iraq, achievement of objective or no achievement of objective. Understand that the Democratic Party that Kerry skippers is a giant patronage machine that prospers by handing out goodies to various interest groups.

There's no pressure group insisting on John Kerry staying the course to win the war in the Democratic Party, therefore, Kerry will take the path of least resistance and leave Iraq.

Americans are coming to realize this, and I suspect, want none of it. The last thing they want is some shameless bugout a la Saigon 1975. They want victory. Bush is the only candidate that insists that victory is his objective. Kerry is not, period.

If they have to choose between the decisive man and the temporizer, the Americans will choose the decisive man every time. As Bush is nothing if not decisive, I strongly believe that this quality above all things will carry him to victory. As for Kerry? His recent intellectual meanderings through the Murkwood of his Iraq policy do not lead us to Minas Tirith. Rather, his policy reminds me of something Churchill once said at the end of a meal:

"Take this pudding away. It has no theme."

Posted by: section9 at September 8, 2004 02:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kerry is saddled with the catastrophe Bush has created. Bush seems happy to let this meat grinder continue ad infinitum. Yah, yah, it's not Vietnam, it's not 30 American dead a day (thanks to better body armor, better equipment, and the fact that we are actually doing only a modest amount of fighting). If Kerry has concluded the Iraq occupation is hurting us, what should he do ... keep silent to allow us to continue looking like we made the right decision? Bah! Preposturous!

Posted by: brendan at September 8, 2004 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

U.S. Conceding Rebels Control Regions of Iraq

Posted by: brendan at September 8, 2004 03:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First of all, the insurgents in Iraq, like the Vietnamese, do not need American politicians to give them "comfort" or "motivation." Just as they are and were not likely to lay down their arms and stop fighting if American leaders proclaimed a 100 years of occupation, so too are they not encouraged to continue if they know that three or four years down the road troops will be removed, or their nationalities changed. This is a naive worldview that greatly underestimates the convictions of insurgents. The Soviets proclaimed repeatedly that they would not leave Afghanistan. How did that treat them? And that's just one example.

If someone is occupying your country and you want them out, you fight on no matter the prospects or comments in the occupier's presidential election. If Kerry had said that he intends to have troops in Iraq indefinitely, would Sadr and Zarqawi close up shop? Really?

As for the comment that the Democratic Party survives by handing out goodies to interest groups, I say what about the GOP? They have no interest groups? They do not dole out the goodies? They do not give tax breaks, loopholes, corporate welfare, de-regulation gifts, public lands to exploit, government contracts to overcharge, etc?

That is myopic at best, but borders on bizarre. Welcome to American politics. That is how it is done, and has been done since the inception of the nation. Pick your interest groups, but don't claim one party is immune. Especially the GOP.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 8, 2004 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hate my favored candidate's implied disparagement of vital allies, but I think he has offered a sober, realistic timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. I know I'm naive by nature, but surely Iraqification can be completed within 4 years. Those Brookings Institution reports on the state of affairs in Iraq are terribly depressing, but at least the number of Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police keeps going up.

Let's put it this way: I would wager that, even in the unlikely event that our President is re-elected, we'll withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq within 4 years.

Posted by: Arjun at September 8, 2004 06:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You gotta love John Kerry's campaign against John Kerry. I wonder how the blogosphere will follow up on this latest whopper: "I've spent 20 years negotiating, working, fighting for different kinds of treaties and different relationships around the world."

Since the Executive branch has the constitutional authority to negotiate treaties, I'm wondering how a junior senator from a mid-size state managed to confound everyone and become the unofficial president or secretary of state in spite of this? And exactly which treaties did he negotiate?

I love the President's opponents consistent mantra of "he lied, he lied"; it is amusing to witness their blind spot to their champion's very loose relationship with reality.

"I've been involved in this for a long time, longer than George Bush." Be very afraid.

Posted by: Marty Keller at September 8, 2004 06:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Marty -

Maybe he was referring to his negotiations in Paris with the Vietnamese while he as a Naval Reserve Officer ?

Posted by: S. Naylor at September 8, 2004 08:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kerry is still living out his 60's/70's Vietnam sorjourn. This means his "secret plan" to end the war is (not Richard Nixon's) the plan he introducef to the Senate subcommittee in 1971. It called for a quick withdrawl with a devil-be-care attitude to the locals that might be killed or injured in the process of coming to, Kerry's magic state, stability. Stability means no fighting; it doesn't predispose any notion of democracy, over any other possible outcome.

Posted by: J_Crater at September 8, 2004 09:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We are approaching the first anniversary of our President's request for an extra $87 billion for the WOT, mainly in Iraq.

At the time, I thought: "Too little, too late. But better late than never, and better something than nothing."

I was appalled by the Democrats's tactics in the debate that followed. I'm voting a straight Democratic ticket this year, but to this day I still feel appalled.

Ted Kennedy pretended that the $87 billion was all for Iraqi reconstruction, and he denounced the Bush Administration for spending money on foreigners when Americans were suffering. Actually, only $18 billion of the $87 billion was for Iraqi reconstruction. (Hardly any of that $18 billion has been spent, regrettably.)

Then American public outcry forced Congress to remove funds for a children's hospital in Basra.

Then the Democrats asked to convert the $18 billion into loans -- after all, how are we going to afford adding prescription drugs to Medicare, unless those damn foreigners are forced to pay us back with their oil money? (So much for "No Blood for Oil".) I actually don't know whether or how John Kerry and John Edwards voted on this important issue. But I do remember this: only two Senate Democrats, Joseph Biden and Maria Cantwell, voted against that terrible proposal. (Zell Miller doesn't count as a Democrat.)

As for the overall bill, I can understand Mr. Kerry's now-famous statement ("I voted for the $87 billion, before I voted against it") but I simply can't agree with his vote. Some things are so important that it's worth borrowing more money to pay for them. I can't agree with the Republicans , either, because they voted against the $87 billion before they voted for it. Some things are so important that it's worth raising taxes to pay for them.

Posted by: Arjun at September 8, 2004 10:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A new poll from Arizona today shows Bush increasing his lead there from three points to sixteen... I think it's over for Kerry. When he becomes more of an object of ridicule than he is already, we will know for sure. American voters do generally choose the decisive man who knows where he wants to go. They also tend to choose a man for whom smiling is not always premeditated... Your estimate of John Edwards during the past two days was exactly right. The wind seems out of him, perhaps because of the way his "two Americas" theme was demolished in NY, or maybe just because he now knows they will lose. As for the swift boat vets, they identified Kerry more than anything else--as a man associated with Jane Fonda, who talked to the Viet Cong in Paris and went to Managua to see Ortega. Yet unpublished, but all over the web, is another story about his attendance at a Kansas City meeting in 1971 which discussed the assassination of U.S. government leaders. Three purple hearts without hospitalization he might have survived, but not all the rest. The Democrats clearly nominated a man with a glass jaw, and it won't be long before you see more criticism of the nominating process.

Posted by: exguru at September 9, 2004 02:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

EM: "First of all, the insurgents in Iraq, like the Vietnamese, do not need American politicians to give them "comfort" or "motivation."

Okay, how about Kerry is signalling his surrender in advance if he wins?

Posted by: john marzan at September 9, 2004 04:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Can you clarify that statement, I'm not sure exactly what you are trying to say.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 13, 2004 07:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Posted by: keno at October 8, 2004 10:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


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