- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has a plan for Iraq. Thing is, he’s just not ready to tell you. Here’s Mr. Kerry speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday: “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.”

As has been remarked by many already, Mr. Kerry is tapdancing dangerously close to the “secret plan” Republican presidentialcandidate Richard Nixon alluded to while campaigning in 1968. In brief, Mr. Nixon allowed the public to believe that he had up his sleeve a plan to win in Vietnam, though he never used the word “secret.” As it turned out, Mr. Nixon had no plan — secret or otherwise. And for all of Mr. Kerry’s assurances of bringing in more foreign support, we would wager dollars to euros that he doesn’t have much of a plan either. Indeed, after announcing that he knows “what we have to do in Iraq” during his acceptance speech in Boston last week, Mr. Kerry spent all of 45 words on the subject out of a 6,100-word speech.

Setting aside political parallels, however, we see great danger in what constitutes a portion of Mr. Kerry’s plan: He pledges to have a “significant, enormous” reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq during his first term. By contrast, President Bush has often repeated his commitment to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for as long as it takes. Mr. Kerry is clearly evoking the belief that he has formulated an “exit strategy” for Iraq by declaring a vague, but determined deadline. Militarily speaking, deadlines are foolish. If you declare a definitive timetable to withdraw from a military campaign, especially one waged by insurgents, your enemy knows that it must simply “hold out” until that deadline comes and goes. This does a great deal of damage to the American-Iraqi combined effort of forcing the insurgents to understand the reality of their desperate and unwinnable situation.

So much of Mr. Kerry’s current rhetoric relives his Vietnam experiences, yet so many of his Senate votes echo his post-Vietnam antiwar activism that voters should demand a clearer Iraq strategy from Mr. Kerry in the coming months than what he has provided so far. We understand that this request might force Mr. Kerry to do what he has so often avoided doing: taking a firm stand on an issue. But when war is the issue, Mr. Kerry cannot have it both ways.

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