- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

John Kerry has finally said what he has long believed but would not say until now: No matter how much of a threat Saddam Hussein posed in the Middle East, it was not reason enough to topple his terrorist regime.

In yet another address to further explain and change his positions on Iraq, the Massachusetts liberal continues his tortuous, publicly confusing odyssey over the war — from pre-primary supporter and defender of the war to critic of the war to partial critic/partial supporter, and now, it seems, to all-out, antiwar protester. Mr. Kerry has come full circle.

Mr. Kerry’s newest explanation of his position on the war was stated in four brief, unambiguous sentences in his speech on Monday: “Saddam was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell,” he said. “But that was not — that was not — in itself a reason to go to war. The satisfaction that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.”

This from a man who not too many weeks ago said knowing what he knows now about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, he still would have voted for the war resolution against the Iraqi dictator who harbored terrorists and financed terrorist acts, particularly in Israel.

President Bush, in response to Mr. Kerry’s remarks, put it perfectly: “He’s saying he prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of a democracy. I couldn’t disagree more, and not so long ago so did my opponent.”

Then Mr. Bush pulled out a remark Mr. Kerry made at Drake University in Iowa last December when he was running far behind antiwar candidate Howard Dean who doubted the U.S. was any safer with Saddam gone. Mr. Kerry had said: “Those who believe we are not safer with [Saddam’s] capture don’t have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president.” “I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Mr. Bush added to a roar of approval at a campaign rally in Derry, N.H., where the latest polls show him leading the Democratic presidential nominee 49 percent to 40 percent.

With his polls in a virtual free fall in key battleground states, Mr. Kerry’s new campaign strategy team — veterans of the Clinton and Dukakis campaigns — believe he needs to refocus his candidacy on Iraq — not just how to win the war there, but a renewed debate over why we went to war in the first place.

The new antiwar strategy is driven by Kerry campaign polls showing the senator not only running behind Mr. Bush but the erosion coming from the Democratic Party base. That of course not only threatens to undermine his presidential prospects but vulnerable House and Senate Democratic candidates, too, particularly in the South and West.

No Democratic Senate candidate is willing to defend John Kerry’s vote against military funding for the troops in Iraq. One party official told me, “Kerry is sounding more and more like Howard Dean, and that’s not good for our party.”

Democratic officials have been urging Mr. Kerry to get off the debate over why we went into Iraq, because that issue has for all intents and purposes been settled in the minds of most Americans who believe Saddam’s removal was part and parcel of the war on terrorism. (Many still believe Saddam was somehow involved with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., though that has never been proven.)

Democratic officials I have talked to in key battleground states in recent weeks say the voters are more interested in “getting the job done” in Iraq and then getting out.

On that score, Mr. Kerry came up wanting Monday, reciting the same old plan he has peddled for months: broader international support in Iraq; stepped-up training of Iraqi forces, assurances elections will be held early next year, and turning over more of the reconstruction work to Iraqi contractors.

In fact, Mr. Bush has pursued all these avenues, and Mr. Kerry has not shown he can do any better.

Meanwhile, the former Vietnam protester who accused U.S. soldiers of unspeakable atrocities, now seems to believe he can win this election by playing the old antiwar card again. Indeed, there are faint echoes in his latest latest speeches of George McGovern’s “come home America,” and he now recites Howard Dean’s antiwar rallying cry word for word: “The wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

But Americans know we are in a war against terrorism that will not be won by setting dates for troop pullouts; that the overthrow of the Taliban and Saddam regimes dealt a major blow to the terrorists; that offensive pre-emption is better than waiting for the next attack; and that this was in fact the right war in the right place at the right time.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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