- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

John Kerry has had so many positions on U.S. troop levels in Iraq and so many nuances that just about everyone — from the very hawkish to the very dovish — has agreed with him at one time or another.

Early in the campaign, The Washington Post noted yesterday, Mr. Kerry said it was impossible to predict when U.S. soldiers would return home without talking to commanders in the field, and even suggested increasing the number of U.S. troops. But when Mr. Kerry’s primary campaign faltered under a withering assault from Howard Dean and the antiwar left, he changed his tune. During a Sept. 4, 2003, debate in New Mexico, for example, Mr. Kerry said: “We should not send more American troops. That would be the worst thing. We do not want more Americanization. We do not want a greater sense of American occupation.”

But in December, Kerry foreign policy adviser Rand Beers said the candidate “would not rule out the possibility” of sending additional troops to Iraq. In an April 18 “Meet the Press” appearance, Mr. Kerry stated that the United States “cannot fail”in Iraq, adding, “if it requires more troops in order to create the stability that eliminates the chaos, that can provide the groundwork for other countries, that’s what you have to do.” On May 28, Mr. Kerry called for increasing the size of the American military by 40,000, in order to relieve “over-extended” National Guard troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last month, Mr. Kerry once again shifted. During a series of Aug. 1 TV interviews, Mr. Kerry promised to substantially reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq by the end of his first term in the White House. “I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops,” he said. One week later, Mr. Kerry said that he planned to begin withdrawing troops during his first six months in office, with a goal of bringing most of them home by the end of his first term. Then, three days ago, he said he could bring all of the troops home by the end of his term.

Perhaps there is some way that one can reconcile all of these formulations (along with the new rationalizations and nuances we are likely to hear from Mr. Kerry in the coming weeks). Sometimes Mr. Kerry sounds like he is motivated by a desire to pander to the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic Party; at other times, he sounds like he is trying to score points with people like Sen. Joe Lieberman and moderates who understand that it would be a disaster for the United States to cut and run in Iraq. When you add it all up, Mr. Kerry sounds like a man without any fixed beliefs who is embarrassing himself by trying to be all things to all people.

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