Mona Charen

Sen. John Kerry announced his run for the presidency surrounded by no fewer than eight American flags and eight veterans of the Vietnam War. The strains of "Anchors Aweigh" (which The New York Times story rendered as "Anchors Away") welcomed the candidate to the podium. Kerry's website likewise emphasizes the senator's military record. His former crewmate, David Alston, who introduced him, must have used the word "courage" 10 times.

Kerry does deserve credit for his military service. He volunteered for the Navy and earned a number of medals and citations when many of his contemporaries were fleeing to Canada -- though his self-praise in this regard inhibits one's desire to mention it. In his announcement speech, Kerry said: "I used my extra days (i.e. postwar life) to join other veterans to end a war I believed was wrong. I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it." Kerry thus invites us to substitute the word "displayed" for "saw."

Kerry is clearly attempting to be the war candidate and the peace candidate at the same time. He wants maximum mileage from his war service and yet argues, implausibly, that his vote for the resolution giving President Bush authority to wage war in Iraq was not a vote for war. The senator explained to Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" that his vote was merely to permit the president to threaten war, not to actually wage it. He claims now to be disappointed in Bush's "rush to war." Instead, if he had been president, and the French and Russians had proved recalcitrant, he would have redoubled his efforts for sanctions or something of the kind.

In that case, why vote to authorize force at all? Or was he suggesting that he merely wanted to give President Bush the authority to bluff? How many times can a nation bluff and yet maintain its credibility?

"Half the names on the Vietnam Memorial are there because of pride," Kerry asserted. "Because of a president who refused to admit he was wrong. Pride is no excuse for making enemies overseas." But was the president wrong to overthrow Saddam Hussein? Has pride caused President Bush to make enemies overseas, or were the enemies already there?

Kerry is lapsing into incoherence on the Iraq War because Howard Dean, the unambiguous antiwar candidate, has been surging in early polls and fund raising. But Kerry has a long record of attempting to have things both ways.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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