By Charles Krauthammer April 23, 2004
In 1952 a presidential candidate running against an administration that had gotten the United States into a debilitating and inconclusive war abroad pledged: "I will go to Korea." He won. A half-century later, a presidential candidate running against an administration that has gotten the United States into a debilitating and (thus far) inconclusive war abroad pledges: "I will go to the U.N."
Electrifying, is it not? And Democrats are wondering why their man is trailing a rather wounded George Bush not just overall, but on Iraq -- and precisely at a time when Iraq is going so badly.
"If I'm president," John Kerry said, "I will not only personally go to the U.N., I will go to other capitals." For Kerry, showing up at Kofi Annan's doorstep and sweeping through allied capitals is no rhetorical flourish, no strategic sideshow. It is the essence of his Iraq plan: "Within weeks of being inaugurated, I will return to the U.N. and I will literally, formally rejoin the community of nations and turn over a proud new chapter in America's relationship with the world."
This is an Iraq policy? Never
has a more serious question received a
more feckless answer. Going back to the U.N.: What does that
cannot mean the General Assembly, which decides nothing. It must
going back to the Security Council.
There are five
permanent members. We are one. The British are already with
us. So that
leaves China, indifferent at best
to our Middle East adventure, though
generally hostile, and Russia,
which has opposed the war from the very
beginning. Moscow was so wedded to Saddam Hussein that it
everything it could to prevent an impartial Paul Volcker commission
from investigating the corrupt oil-for-food program that enriched
Hussein and, through kickbacks, hundreds of others in dozens of
countries, including Russia.
That leaves . . . France.
What does Kerry think France will do for us? Perhaps he sees
and Teresa descending on Paris like Jack and Jackie in Camelot days.
Does he really believe that if he grovels before Jacques Chirac in
well-accented French, France will join us in a war that it has opposed
from the beginning, that is now going badly, and that has moved Iraq
out of the French sphere of influence and into the American?
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 United Nations and other countries is not realistic, Kerry simply dodged the question. There was nothing to say.
Which may help
inside-the-Beltway Washington find its way out of its conundrum over
the latest polls. No one can understand how, with the president
pummeled daily on the front pages by Richard Clarke, the Sept. 11
commission 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
business, and what John Kerry is offering is simply not serious.
Americans may be unsure whether Bush has a plan for success in
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 terrorism. Kerry did flirt with Howard Dean in the primaries, but he 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 Persian 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 will lose the war issue that was his for the taking.