After the swift boat attacks of August and the Rathergate debacle — CBS’ botched attempt to paint President Bush as an insolent National Guard officer deserving of court martial — John Kerry seems to have found his footing. Kerry seems a liberated man.
He is now pummeling the president on the great issue of this campaign. “The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy, Al Qaeda,” declares Kerry. It has turned Iraq into a haven for terrorists. He describes “the real war.”
“(T)o destroy our enemy we have to know our enemy. … They are not just out to kill us, they want to provoke a conflict that will radicalize the people of the Muslim world, turning them against the United States and the West. And they hope to transform that anger into a force that will topple the region’s governments and pave the way for a new empire: an oppressive, fundamentalist superstate stretching across a vast area from Europe to Africa, from the Middle East to Central Asia. That’s their goal.”
Truth be told, this is exactly what we confront. So, Kerry has rolled the dice to offer himself as a leader to disengage us from what he calls a mistaken, mismanaged war, to redirect our fire at Al Qaeda:
“As president, I pledge to you, America, I will finish the job in Iraq. … I will refocus our energies on the real war on terror. I will wage this war relentlessly, with a single-minded determination to capture or kill the terrorists, crush their movements and free the world from fear.”
Kerry has belatedly occupied the terrain on which he will fight, but he has obstacles to overcome if he is to win.
First, he must offer an exit strategy, a way out of Iraq. This he has not done. Second, he must explain why, if Iraq was a detour in the war on terror, he voted to give Bush a blank check to go to war. Why did he say, a month ago, that he would have voted to authorize an invasion, even had he known Iraq had no role in 9-11 and no weapons of mass destruction?
Moreover, history is not on Kerry’s side. In wartime America, the peace candidate and the dovish party always lose.
Gen. McClellan was defeated by Lincoln in 1864 after Sherman took Atlanta. William Jennings Bryan was routed by McKinley when we were bogged down in a Philippine insurrection even bloodier than Iraq. Nixon routed McGovern, the antiwar candidate, in 1972 49 states to one.
Eisenhower and Nixon ousted ruling parties in unpopular wars in 1952 and 1968. But Truman and LBJ had been bloodied in primaries and did not run again. And Ike was more hawkish than Adlai Stevenson and Nixon more hawkish than Hubert Humphrey, who had promised a bombing halt.
Now, the Republicans are moving ruthlessly to play the ace of trumps in American politics, the patriot card, against Kerry.
When Kerry scoffed at assurances by Prime Minister Allawi that the war was going well and elections would be held in January, Bush charged him with undercutting an ally. “This brave man came to our country to talk about how he’s risking his life for a free Iraq,” said Bush, “and Sen. Kerry held a press conference to question (his) credibility.”
Allawi, too, piled on: “When political leaders sound the siren of defeatism in the face of terrorism, it only encourages more violence.”
Cheney was brutal: “I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Sen. Kerry showed for this man of courage. … Iyad Allawi is our ally. … John Kerry is trying to tear him down and to trash all the good that has been accomplished. … His words are destructive.”
When Kerry called Allawi America’s sock puppet — “you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips” — Sen. Orrin Hatch tore into him: “You know what is really underneath the shirt of Prime Minister Allawi? Scars from an ax attack by Saddam’s henchmen. And do you know what is underneath those scars? A brave and patriotic Iraqi heart, beholden to no one but the cause of a free Iraq.”
I.e., John Kerry is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Indeed, if you trash our allies in Iraq as “some trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted,” as Kerry did, call Iraq’s prime minister a sock puppet and denounce a sitting president as an incompetent war leader, you have to expect what Kerry is now receiving.
The New York Times may wail about “an un-American way to campaign,” but Bush and Cheney are fighting for their political lives and places in history. Do not expect this pair to go gentle into that good night.
So, America is going to find out what the candidate they call “the Frenchman” is made of. And, frankly, we should, before we go to the polls. Stop the whining. Let’s get it on.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.