Kerry, the Antiwar Candidate?

With the Gallup Poll showing 51 percent of Americans want all U.S. troops out of Iraq by year’s end, John Kerry has made his move.

The 2004 Democratic nominee is calling for complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, if Iraqis do not agree on a unity government by May 15. Even if the Iraqis pull a government together, Kerry wants all U.S. forces removed by Dec. 31.

The ice is cracking. With half the nation backing “Bring-the-Boys-Home-by-Christmas,” Democratic support for getting out must be in the 60 percent range. Kerry is moving to the base of his party, not away from it. He is kissing the Joe Lieberman wing goodbye.

His decision reveals a political calculation that the only way to take the nomination from Hillary is to move left, ride the antiwar horse, and rally the Hollyleft and True Believers.

In this huge sector of the Democratic Party there has been a vacuum, filled only by Rep. John Murtha and Sen. Russ Feingold. Now, every Democrat who sees himself as the alternative to Hillary is going to have to ask himself: What is the benefit of hanging back and standing with the Bush-Rumsfeld-Rice-Cheney stay-the-course policy?

Mrs. Clinton has been here before — in 1968. The Democratic Party is now there again, and she is in the role of Hubert Humphrey, tied to an unpopular war, while Kerry, like Robert F. Kennedy, has just decided the antiwar camp is where the action and passions are.

Bill and Hillary may believe supporting the war is the right position in April 2006, but they have to ask how that stand, already hurting Hillary in the party, will be viewed two years from now, when Iowa Democrats caucus and New Hampshire Democrats vote.

Kerry’s move could set off a stampede of centrist Democrats to back a timetable for withdrawal that will force Hillary to reconsider and force the GOP to stand by Bush, making “Iraq — Stay or Go?” the issue of 2006.

While President Bush, who believes in this war and the cause of democratizing the Middle East, may be unfazed by Kerry’s defection, his party — especially senators from Blue States, like Rick Santorum, and House members from swing districts — cannot be sanguine about having Iraq become the issue this fall.

But if Democrats are approaching a moment of truth, the GOP must come to terms, soon, with the failure of the Wilsonian policies Bush embraced on the counsel of his neoconservatives — or ride those policies into political irrelevance.

Post-9/11, the president took down the Taliban and decimated al-Qaida, but Osama bin Laden is at large and Afghanistan is again bedeviled by narco-warlords and the Taliban. What price democracy in Kabul?

The takedown of Saddam led to a diplomatic success when Libya surrendered its weapons of mass destruction in return for being let out of the terrorist-state box, where Khadafi belonged after Lockerbie. But who believes the pro-Iranian regime certain to come to power in Baghdad is worth three years of war, 2,300 dead, 17,000 wounded and $300 billion to $400 billion?

The Bush bellicosity toward Tehran gave us Ahmadinejad. The principal beneficiary of the crusade for democracy is a Hamas government we are trying to choke to death by cutting off aid. How putting 50,000 Palestinian police on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza with no means of supporting their families will advance peace escapes a number of us.

During the Bush years, the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, and assorted “peace” institutes and think tanks have been intervening with tax dollars to support “democratic revolutions” in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America — what the CIA used to do clandestinely in the Cold War

But meddling in the internal affairs of ex-Soviet republics has enraged Moscow, pushed Russia closer to China and converted Vladimir Putin from a friend of the United States into a bitter adversary.

As Andrew Bacevich writes in The American Conservative, the just-released Bush National Security Strategy “comes chockfull of declarations, exhortations and gaseous generalities … (but) never bothers to consider how we got into our current mess … or how we’re going to pay for the ‘Long War’ that the president has contrived as the best way to get us out.”

As for our goal of “ending tyranny on the face of the earth,” Bacevich writes, we had best address the matter of ends and means:

“In 2005, the U.S. Army experienced its worst recruiting year in a quarter-century. Out of a population of some 290 million, the Army had a goal of persuading 80,000 to serve. Despite plenty of bucks for advertising, the offer of generous bonuses and the lessening of enlistment standards, recruiters still came up nearly 7,000 volunteers short.”

You can’t run an empire without soldiers. Bacevich quotes Lord Rutherford in the 1930s, “We’re out of money; it’s time to think.”

Have Republicans any thoughts — other than embracing Bush and, of course, warning us always to beware the big, bad wolf of “isolationism”?

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire.