- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

With the election just six weeks away, Sen. John Kerry continues thrashing about — attempting to fashion a coherent set of reasons to oppose President Bush’s approach to the Iraq war. On Monday, Mr. Kerry denounced the Iraq war as a “profound diversion” from the war on terror, which he termed “the defining struggle of our times.” So, how does Mr. Kerry propose to deal with this threat?

On Monday, he offered what in essence is a two-part plan. The first part consists of proposals that are similar to those made by Mr. Bush for alleviating the problems in Iraq. These include: taking steps to ensure that elections take place next year; convening an international summit to win more money and troops for Iraq; putting more effort into training Iraqi security forces; and drawing up a priority list of construction projects for Iraq.

The second part of the Kerry plan unveiled Monday is reminiscent of the proposal put forward earlier this year by Howard Dean. Mr. Kerry said that if Mr. Bush were to change his policy now and adopt part one of his plan, Washington could begin a withdrawal of troops by next summer and pull out of Iraq completely within four years.

These conflicting responses reflect the challenge Mr. Kerry faces in keeping his political coalition together. Some of his most prominent supporters, including Sen. Joseph Biden, support the war but fault the way Mr. Bush has conducted it. But a large bloc of Kerry backers are people from the Dean wing of the party who are motivated by a visceral loathing of Mr. Bush and the fact that the United States went to war at all.

Mr. Kerry’s reputation as a flip-flopper on these issues stems from his efforts to appeal to voters in both camps. When Mr. Dean, then the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, suggested in December that the ouster of Saddam Hussein had not made the American people safer, Mr. Kerry rightly criticized such foolishness. But on Monday, Mr. Kerry suggested that the Iraq war resulted in “a chaos that has left America less secure.” After Mr. Bush responded by criticizing the implication of Mr. Kerry’s comment — that our nation would be better off if we had left Saddam in power — Mr. Kerry found himself in the embarrassing position of fending off reporters’ questions about the advisability of removing the Iraqi dictator.

As of yesterday, Mr. Kerry’s most recent explanation of his position is that we’re better off with Saddam gone, but Mr. Bush acted incompetently in the way he went about overthrowing him. Given the reality that Mr. Kerry’s European friends have shown no indication they are willing to ride to the rescue in Iraq, the candidate faces a problem as he tries to persuade voters that he offers a credible alternative to the president’s approach.

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