Kerry Focuses On Iraq The Rest Of The Way
A week ago, I beseeched the Kerry campaign to put Iraq back into the campaign. I argued that Bush had tied the Iraq war into the war on terror so that Kerry would stay away from attacking Bush on Iraq. Although the White House says that they are happy to talk about Iraq and not domestic issues, the truth is that they can’t defend the war under a constant barrage from Kerry.
Sunday’s Washington Post reports in a Page One story that Kerry has decided to put Iraq front and center in his campaign from this day on. It is a risky strategy, if Kerry goes so far as to downplay health insurance and job insecurities in his effort to constantly put Bush on the defense on Iraq. But as Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter correctly points out in another piece that I liken to my complaints about the lack of a “Tier Two” campaign since last spring, Kerry has no choice but to go negative now to define differences with Bush that should have been made apparent to voters by now. As Alter says, in a perfect world Kerry would have been attacking and defining Bush since the spring (as I have been saying since February) so that he could use the fall to look and talk presidential with a forward-looking message. Because the Kerry campaign didn’t define differences with Bush and then allowed Bush to smear and define him in August, Kerry now finds himself having to go negative by focusing on Bush’s record. This is perfectly legitimate, but it should have been part of an unrelenting focus since the spring.
To this end as the Post notes, Kerry will keep hammering Bush on Iraq. As I myself said a week ago, Kerry needs to pin Bush down and hold him accountable for Iraq and get him to tell voters what the short-term plan and exit strategy is. Kerry doesn’t have to get sucked into explaining himself or his own strategy here; he is not the one on trial.
"Iraq is the defining issue of the Bush administration, and their attempt to make Kerry answer questions obscures the fact that it's they who should answer questions," said Kerry adviser Richard C. Holbrooke.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said Kerry must "stop litigating what has been their [the Bush campaign's] deftness in taking advantage of a complicated issue," a reference to Kerry's struggle to explain his positions on Iraq.
"Start focusing on what's the plan, Stan," Biden said. "This administration wants to be judged on what they say is the central front of the war on terror which is Iraq. The president says we're doing well in Iraq. The president misunderstood, misjudged and misled the American people on Iraq consistently, since the fall of the statue of Saddam Hussein."
Absolutely right. If Bush wants to conflate Iraq with the war on terror, then turn it around and hang him with it.
Bush is obligated to tell the voters at the debates how his rose-colored glasses view of Iraq squares with the reality on the ground, and whether or not he will be calling up more troops right after the election to deal with the deteriorating situation there. If so, why isn’t he doing this now then? We already know that he does plan this, at the same time that he plans to wait until after the election to send our troops into aggressive battles to reclaim insurgent-held towns in advance of Iraq’s January elections. Kerry should make Bush spell out what the overall plan is and upon what assumptions it is based on, and more importantly what contingency plans have been developed when this plan, like the previous Bush plans, falls apart.
Frankly, it shouldn’t have come down to Kerry bashing Bush about Iraq in the closing weeks of this campaign. That’s what should have happened all spring and summer long, instead of detours into Vietnam and convincing voters that you would be a good commander in chief. But those are the cards that Kerry has dealt himself and he needs to run the table with what he has.
It is very simple from this point on, and can be summarized like this:
If your fear of terrorism is all that matters to you, then vote for Mr. Bush because he is an expert at playing to your fears, and doing little else.
But if you want to fight terrorism, but also want your president to deal with health care then vote for me.
If you want to fight terrorism, but also want your president to work for better jobs, then vote for me.
If you want to fight terrorism, but also want to protect Medicare and Social Security, then vote for me.
If you want to fight terrorism, but also want your president to free us from Saudi oil, then vote for me.
And if you really want to fight terrorism, but refuse to be misled again into another unnecessary war, then vote for me.