Finally the debate is joined. After months of arguments about Vietnam, the National Guard and faked documents, the presidential candidates are addressing the most important question of the year: Can we win in Iraq?
There?s a stark difference in their answers.
?Today the Iraqi and Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom,? President Bush optimistically told the United Nations General Assembly. ?The governments that are rising will pose no threat to others. Instead of harboring terrorists, they?re fighting terrorist groups. And this progress is good for the long-term security of all of us.?
John Kerry disagrees. ?Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and if we do not change course there is a prospect of a war with no end in sight,? he announced at New York University on Sept. 20.
Kerry summed up his position with a four-point plan. But of those points, the first is the only important one. ?The President has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don?t have to go it alone,? Kerry announced at NYU. That?s such a good plan, the administration?s already been trying it.
This summer, American officials approached almost two dozen countries and asked them to contribute troops to a proposed force that would help guard U.N. workers in Iraq. The U.N. itself chipped in by unanimously passing a resolution urging countries to send soldiers. No takers. Listening to some of the world leaders who spoke after Bush, that?s no surprise.
The prime minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero -- the man elected after terrorists carried out bomb attacks on trains in Madrid -- announced that peace demands ?more heroism than war.? Oh. So, apparently, does capitulation to terrorists. Meanwhile, President Joseph Deiss of Switzerland declared the U.S.-led project in Iraq was ?doomed to failure.?
Kerry claims world leaders oppose Bush because he?s been ?lecturing them instead of leading them to understand how we are all together with a stake in the outcome of Iraq.? But at the United Nations, Bush simply pointed out, ?Every nation that wants peace will share the benefits of a freer world. And every nation that seeks peace has an obligation to help build that world.? That seems more like a call to common cause than a lecture.
Whether Sen. Kerry is elected or not, the bottom line is that the 28-member coalition we?ve got now is probably as large as it?s going to get. Nobody?s likely to jawbone other nations into joining us on the ground in Iraq. Still, there are some who think the current coalition will prevail.
?It?s very important for the people of the world really to know that we are winning, we are making progress in Iraq, we are defeating terrorists,? Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said. ?Unfortunately, the media have not been covering these significant gains in Iraq.?
Maybe that?s because reporters have been too busy lately, engaging in a paper chase and trying to determine where George W. Bush was in 1972.
By the way, Allawi isn?t the only world leader who supports Bush. ?It was a very good speech. It was all true,? President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan announced. He went on to thank the United States and our allies for helping to rebuild his country after decades of war.
But Kerry?s view differs from that of the leaders on the front lines. ?I believe the invasion of Iraq has made us less secure and weaker in the war against terrorism,? Kerry told the audience at NYU. And we?ve heard that one a lot. Back in July, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., announced that, because of the war in Iraq, ?our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.? This may be true -- but the evidence so far is against it.
It?s now been three full years since 9/11. In those three years, we?ve suffered zero attacks on our homeland. Yes, our military is fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And it may be called on to fight terrorists elsewhere, too.
When all is said and done, there?s a war on. One candidate?s convinced we can and will win in Iraq -- indeed, that we must. He wants to stay the course. The other says, ?It is not a question of staying the course, but of changing the course.?
At last, on the most important issue of the day, Americans have a clear choice. Let?s vote.