Kerry?s Quandary: Trying to be Both Pro- and Anti-War

Posted: Jul 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Despite the media?s obsession with President Bush?s failures in Iraq and the blame cast on him even for the CIA?s mistakes, John Kerry should be soaring in the polls.  But he?s not.

Iraq is easily the dominant issue?although the jury?s out on how many votes it will sway?yet Kerry?s polling has barely budged.  After all, not being the unpopular guy often counts for a lot in elections.

But this is Kerry?s quandary: he?s not exactly a supporter of the war, though he voted for it, yet he?s not quite anti-war either. 

Fudging positions on intractable issues where clarity can only earn enemies makes sense.  But wartime ambiguity for a would-be commander-in-chief does not inspire the necessary confidence among the electorate.

To understand why Kerry cannot?and likely will not?capitalize on Bush?s Iraq troubles, look at the Democrat?s recent comments to the NAACP.

In a friendly forum where little was needed to elicit a standing ovation, the Massachusetts senator made a startling accusation?or at least it seems he did.

?We?ve got a plan to invest in new technologies and alternative fuels and protect our environment, so that no young American in uniform is ever held hostage to our dependence on oil from the Middle East,? he said near the end of his prepared remarks.

Standing alone, it seems entirely possible he was alluding to the Gulf War or to some hypothetical situation in the future where a Saddam-like tyrant attempts similar hijinks.

The very next words Kerry uttered, however, made clear the intended meaning: ?Values mean building a strong military and leading strong alliances, so no young American is ever put in harm?s way because we needlessly insisted on going it alone.?

Kerry clearly set the context as the Iraq war with that follow-up statement.  Calls to Kerry?s campaign office seeking clarification were not returned, perhaps not unintentionally.

Leveling incredibly serious charges by implication is fast becoming a Kerry trademark.  He did so after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report?which actually exonerated Bush from charges that his administration had cooked up evidence?and kicked off the Kerry-Edwards campaign that way.

Here is what Kerry told the assembled crowd when he announced John Edwards as his veep pick: ?And I can pledge you this: John Edwards and I would never think about sending young America?s sons and daughters into harm?s way anywhere in the world without telling the American people the truth.?

But about did Bush lie?  Al Qaeda?  WMDs?  Kerry doesn?t bother explaining.  Kerry, in fact, doesn?t even have the guts to say that Bush ?lied,? but the implication couldn?t be clearer.

If Kerry?s recent remarks are any indication, a primary Democratic theme this fall will be that Bush has blood on his hands?for waging a war Kerry supported.  Immediately after the release of the Senate panel?s report, Kerry told the New York Times, ?They were wrong and soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong.?

Who are ?they??  Factually, it would have to be the CIA, yet contextually, it appears Kerry was referring to Bush and Cheney.  The article seems to back up the latter interpretation.

Four separate calls to the Kerry campaign last week seeking clarification were not returned.  A pattern, perhaps?

To be fair, almost every candidate for every office throughout time has muddied the political waters.  Try as he might, though, Kerry can?t be both pro- and anti-war.

But boy, has he tried.

After voting to authorize the war in 2002?and using stark rhetoric about the threat posed by Saddam in his accompanying speech?he has intermittently been a peacenik since.  He opposed the $87 billion for rebuilding the country, and now he routinely blasts Bush for launching a war he himself supported.

When he?s not busy pandering to the crowd, though, Ted Kennedy?s prot? poses as a hawk.  Just Friday, Kerry appeared to back pre-emptive strikes, saying that he would be ?prepared as president to go get them before they get us.? 

The caveat he sneaked in right afterward, however, is what reveals his true intentions: ?if we? have sufficient intelligence.?  What exactly would be ?sufficient??  The fact that he leaves that issue cloudy probably says it all.

Moments later, he offered an apparent endorsement of unilateral action: ?I will never allow any other country to veto what we need to do and I will never allow any other institution to veto what we need to do to protect our nation.?  This from the same man who the day earlier who had blasted Bush for ?needlessly going it alone??despite having done everything short of putting France and Germany in a headlock before amassing a ?coalition of the willing? comprised of over 35 countries.

Kerry can?t dance this way forever and expect to win.  Voters need some sense of his proposed direction.  For all the brickbats thrown at Bush, at least folks know where he stands.

The same can?t be said for Kerry.  Voters suffer migraines attempting to reconcile his criticisms that Bush should have submitted to the whims of France and Russia with Kerry?s supposed support for unilateral action.  Ditto for endorsing preemptive action in between speeches where one of the biggest applause lines is, ?In our Administration, we?ll never go to war because we want to; we?ll only go to war because we have to.?

Maybe Kerry won?t deviate much on the War on Terror.  Who knows?  But that?s the point.