The Debate Begins

John Kerry may want to think about amending his position on Iraq one last time. The Democratic presidential nominee this week declared that he never would have invaded Iraq. He added that he personally would save America from humiliation, isolation and ruin by training his formidable diplomatic skills on the task of mending fences with allies and whuppin’ Usama bin Laden.

This is almost comically naïve. The threat of global terror stems not from defects in American table manners, but from a hateful ideology that has metastasized across the Arab world. Al Qaeda doesn’t murder because it despises our arrogance or our lack of graciousness toward, say, France. It murders because it worships death.

Sen. Kerry won’t win any converts by acting as if the real problem were the lack of amour between Paris and Washington. European leaders have abandoned us because they don’t believe the war suits their national interests. They wouldn’t change their approach if the Kerrys were to occupy the second floor of the White House — not even if Mr. and Mrs. Kerry were to say “pretty please” en Francais.

Rather than getting bogged down into a silly debate about the relative merits of Americans and Europeans, Sen. Kerry might want to drop the matter and triangulate. He could turn the tables on George W. Bush by moving decisively to the right of the president on the issue of military power.

He could argue that the United States needs to get serious about beefing up its armed forces so our troops would have the resources to win resounding victories not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but other theaters of war that might come into play during the war on terror (Western Africa and Sudan come to mind). He might say that a Kerry administration not only would order up body armor, but more bodies – enough to double the size of the military and to house, train, equip and retain the new officers and enlisted men.

Such a position would enable Kerry to do two things. First, he could acknowledge that the real lesson of Vietnam was that we can’t bail out on a good cause just because the going has gotten tough. Young Lt. John Kerry preached just the opposite to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. A newer, tougher Kerry approach toward Iraq would provide at least some palatable way to confess his past sins, apologize for his treacherous testimony, and demonstrate that he finally has learned a thing or two from the war in Indochina.

Second, he could exploit the president’s one weakness in Iraq — the growing, barely mentioned fear that we’re pulling our punches just when we should be polishing off the bad guys. Ironically, the Bush Administration has run into difficulty in Iraq because it has adopted the policies John Kerry now espouses — consulting heavily with allies, and deferring to an Iraqi government that can’t make up its mind what to do and a religious establishment that can’t decide whether to fight, switch or sit out the present round of Mesopotamian bloodletting.

Granted, this suggested shift on Kerry’s part may seem a stretch, but it’s not wholly inconsistent with Kerry’s campaign-trail pronouncements. He grouses that nobody listened to former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who urged the deployment of 200,000 troops in Iraq. What better way to honor Shinseki than by ordering up a military large enough to meet that goal? Similarly, he has battered voters with mythic tales of men sent into combat without body armor. What better way to leverage that bit of fiction than to demand real armor — tanks and fighting vehicles along with ammunition, spy drones and other tools of war?

This may seem a long shot, but it’s about the only one Sen. Kerry has left. If he continues to insist that we will win the war on terror in brandy-sipping diplomatic salons, no one, not even his own party, will take him seriously.

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