Hours after yesterday’s early transfer of sovereignty to Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney reminded Republicans that Sen. John Kerry had once “described himself as an opponent of the war.”
The implication was clear: If the Massachusetts Democrat’s ambivalence had carried the day, Iraq would still be run by a dictator.
“Saddam Hussein once controlled the lives and the future of almost 25 million people,” Mr. Cheney told the party faithful in Hebron, Ky. “Today, he’s in jail.”
In case anyone missed the point, he added: “These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds, saying one thing one day, and another the next.”
The remarks, which drew cheers and applause, suggest that President Bush’s re-election campaign is counting on a major boost from the transfer of power in Iraq. The president hopes voters will realize that his single-minded determination to oust Saddam has borne fruit.
“I must confess that the first polls I worry about are those that are going to take place in early November of this year,” Mr. Bush told reporters two days before the transfer.
Over the last several weeks, the president has managed to undermine Mr. Kerry’s two main arguments against the administration’s Iraq policy.
The first was Mr. Kerry’s complaint that the U.N. Security Council failed to sanction the administration’s plans for a new Iraqi government. That argument evaporated June 8, when the Security Council voted 15-0 for a U.S.-backed resolution outlining the new government.
The second argument advanced by Mr. Kerry was that NATO was insufficiently involved in postwar Iraq. Yesterday, during the president’s visit to Istanbul for a NATO summit, leaders of the alliance agreed to train the military, security and police forces of the new Iraqi government.
Mr. Kerry sounded unimpressed with yesterday’s developments.
“I believe it is critical that the president get real support — not resolutions, not words — but real support of sufficient personnel, troops and money to assist in the training of security forces,” he told reporters in Baltimore.
Mr. Kerry said such support would “guarantee a rapid, real transition” and “provide adequate security on the ground.”
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said the world is more “tattered and volatile” than when Mr. Bush took office.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt scoffed at the Democrat’s comments.
“The Iraqi people made history today, and so did John Kerry with his unprecedented pessimism about today’s progress in Iraq,” said Mr. Schmidt. “Kerry revealed his cynicism when he complained that not enough of the money he voted against is being spent and that the contributions of NATO and our allies aren’t ‘real.’”
Other Democrats were equally reluctant to credit the president with yesterday’s turnover of sovereignty.
“We still don’t know whether the Iraqi people are better off or not,” said former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean on CNN.
Kerry adviser Richard Holbrooke questioned Mr. Bush’s assertion that “the Iraqi people have their country back.”
“I don’t know if he’s right or not,” he said on CNN. “This was a rather covert, secretive ceremony.
“What should have been a great day was held in secrecy because of security,” he said. “It’s a rather strong metaphor from the whole tragic and very unfortunate occupation period.”
But Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, lauded the historic transfer and praised Mr. Bush for rallying international support for the democratization of Iraq.
“Iraq’s long journey to freedom is not yet free from danger, but no one can dispute that today, a corner has been turned,” the House majority leader said. “For a generation, the proud and resilient people of that great nation were brutalized by a dictator. Today, they are free.”