- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has failed to lay out a concrete plan to the public on how he would handle the Iraq situation if he were president, a recent Republican poll found.

The survey of 600 likely voters, conducted Aug. 22-24 by MWR Strategies, found that people have varied opinions on what Mr. Kerry would do in Iraq if he becomes president.

“It essentially means Mr. Kerry has succeeded in muddying the waters on the issue,” MWR’s Michael McKenna said. “He’s got a public that’s not sure where he might be on the war in Iraq at any given moment.”

Mr. McKenna’s survey found that 38 percent thought Mr. Kerry would reduce American presence in Iraq gradually; 19 percent thought he would withdraw American troops immediately; 13 percent said he’d keep the American troop level in Iraq the same; 6 percent said he’d increase the number of troops; and 22 percent didn’t know or refused to answer.

The pollster said Mr. Kerry actually wants people to be unsure on that.

“As long as he can be all things to all people, he can maximize his votes,” Mr. McKenna added. “Clarity is his enemy.”

Mr. Kerry’s plan for Iraq has taken on different variations. The Massachusetts Democrat has said in the past that he would talk to military leaders on the ground in order to decide how many troops should be there, but then he began talking about reducing troop size. In a radio interview earlier this month, Mr. Kerry said he would get more countries involved in stabilizing Iraq and then “significantly” reduce American troops there a year from now.

At a campaign stop in Arizona a few days later, Mr. Kerry explained that he would still respond to what military leaders tell him is needed in Iraq, but his goal is to involve more countries in the rebuilding effort and reduce American troop presence over one year’s time.

“Obviously, we have to see how events unfold,” he said. “The measurement has to be, as I’ve said all along, the stability of Iraq, the ability to have the elections, and the training and transformation of the Iraqi security force itself.”

The Kerry campaign sent an aide to speak to reporters after his Arizona remarks to further clarify that Mr. Kerry’s goal of troop reduction is, of course, contingent on Iraq being stable and other nations contributing more troops.

The Kerry campaign did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.

“John Kerry has not been clear on what he would do,” said Republican consultant Cheri Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies. “He’s counting on people hating the president, and therefore voting for John Kerry, rather than giving people a good reason to vote for John Kerry.”

Part of the reason for this, however, is that Democrats are more divided on the Iraq issue than Republicans, who tend to strongly support the effort, said Will Marshall, founder of the Progressive Policy Institute and co-founder of its sister group, the Democratic Leadership Council.

This means that unlike Mr. Bush — whose base is essentially united on Iraq — Mr. Kerry has to speak to Democrats who vehemently opposed the war, Democrats who support the effort, and swing voters who aren’t sure. “He’s trying to cover a larger swath of the electorate,” Mr. Marshall explained.

Mr. Marshall said the public is clear on Mr. Kerry’s pledge to involve more allies, as opposed to taking a unilateral approach, but the MWR poll shows that, “beyond that, they don’t know” the details of the senator’s Iraq plans.

But Mr. Kerry doesn’t really need a detailed plan for Iraq at this point, he said, because it is not the challenger’s job to explain “how they’d get America out of a sticky situation,” so they are “not forced to be as specific as incumbents are.”

This won’t stop Republicans, however, from trying “to make hay on this issue and call it another instance of flip-flopping,” he added.

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