Sen. John Kerry’s fusillade of attacks on President Bush’s handling of Iraq has played well with the Democrat’s antiwar political base and contributors, but his reluctance to reveal an alternative to the administration’s war strategy is fueling criticism among national security analysts.
“I haven’t the faintest idea what his prescriptions in Iraq would be. Some people may, but I don’t,” said Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a national security scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution and a former State Department and National Security Council adviser.
“At some point, he is going to have to get serious if he is going to be taken seriously about how he would actually deal with the issue in a way that he as a patriotic American can support it. But he hasn’t done that,” Mr. Sonnenfeldt said. “At the moment, it’s all attack and all name-calling and trying to take advantage of whatever uneasiness there is in the American electorate.”
Even some of the backers of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee acknowledge that they are uneasy about the negative nature of the Massachusetts senator’s attacks on the administration’s war policies. They would like Mr. Kerry to deal with the larger strategic issues at stake in Iraq and define his plan for protecting the United States from terrorists.
“He has said there is no easy way out and resisted the temptation to say ‘cut and run,’” said Michael O’Hanlon, a Kerry campaign supporter and a senior foreign-policy fellow at Brookings.
“But I do agree that Kerry could be a little more constructive and a little less negative in his tone,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “I would like to see Kerry talk about how we can win the war in Iraq in a broader way, how we can win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. I’d like him to be more visionary.”
Sensing that Mr. Kerry finally was coming under fire for failure to detail his approach to the war, the Bush campaign is stepping up attacks on the senator’s reluctance to say what he would do if elected president.
“Instead of showing the world and the enemies of freedom that America stands firmly behind the effort in Iraq, and is committed to victory, Kerry has made the political calculation to rail against the war on terror at every stop on the campaign trail without offering any credible alternative. Kerry has no plan for the war on terror, just personal political attacks,” said Nicolle Devenish, the Bush campaign’s chief spokesman.
It is not just in the foreign-policy community and the Bush campaign that Mr. Kerry is encountering criticism for being all attack and no alternatives. Some of the national news media also have begun to criticize him on the war.
“It was clear this week [Kerry] had no alternative plan for pacifying Iraq, beyond a vague notion that other nations should help out,” the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Kerry campaign advisers have been privately divided on what his strategy on Iraq should be with the situation there appearing to be going badly for the president. Some say Mr. Kerry does not need to be much more specific about what he would do at a time when the administration’s policies are failing to pacify the country in preparation for the June 30 deadline when the United States will hand over administrative authority to a provisional Iraqi council.
Other advisers think that Mr. Kerry must do more than just attack Mr. Bush’s policies, because that makes him look like a radical antiwar critic who does not have an idea on how to defeat the insurgents and ultimately bring peace and democracy to Iraq.
But Mr. Kerry’s attacks on the war do not appear to have hurt Mr. Bush. An Ipsos-Public Affairs poll of 1,001 adults, including 758 registered voters, released Friday by the Associated Press, showed that 51 percent approve of the president’s handling of the war on terrorism.
A National Annenberg Election Survey also reported Friday that “Americans consider President Bush steadier, a stronger leader, more likeable and less likely to bow to political pressure than Senator Kerry.”