Charles Krauthammer

     The idea is so absurd that when Tim Russert interviewed Kerry and quoted Democratic foreign policy adviser Ivo Daalder as saying that handing political and military responsibility to the U.N. and other countries is not realistic, Kerry simply dodged the question. There was nothing to say.

     Which might help inside-the-Beltway Washington find its way out of its  conundrum over the latest polls. No one can understand how, with the president being pummeled daily on the front pages by Richard Clarke, the Sept. 11 hearings, the Woodward book, and the eruption of Iraq into open warfare again, Bush nonetheless has gained over Kerry on the issue of national security.

     The answer is simple: Americans are a serious people, war is a serious business, and what John Kerry is offering is simply not serious. Americans may be unsure whether Bush has a plan for success in Iraq. But they sure as hell know that going to U.N. headquarters, visiting foreign capitals and promising lots of jaw-jaw is no plan at all.

     I give Kerry credit for not taking the easy antiwar path. He agrees that abandoning Iraq would be catastrophic for the United States and for the war on terror. Kerry did flirt with Howard Dean in the primaries, but has consistently opposed ``cut and run.''

     True, it would be politically suicidal to zigzag yet again on the war. After having voted No on the Gulf War, Yes on the Iraq war, No on the $87 billion for reconstruction, and today advocating a firm Yes on finishing the job, to now reverse himself once again and advocate pulling out would be a politically fatal flip-flop.

     But his tortuous path to his current position has left him politically bereft on Iraq. Ralph Nader has now made himself the antiwar candidate by calling for a pullout in six months. With that, his candidacy found a rationale beyond mere vanity, and may indeed draw some serious Democratic support. Many liberals and left-wingers will find it hard to support a Democratic candidate who, like Hubert Humphrey in 1968, advocates staying the course on a war they hate.

     Kerry's political problem is that he supports Bush's Iraq objective and differs only on the means. Unfortunately for Kerry, ``I will go to Turtle Bay'' is not the stuff of legend. Unless he comes up with something better, Kerry may lose the war issue that was his for the taking.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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