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As the LA Times reports in its analysis today, John Kerry's campaign strategy on Iraq has come under fire from both sides, as George Bush continues to push for greater international involvement in Iraqi reconstruction and Nader stumps for withdrawal, an option increasingly popular with Kerry's base:
From one side, Kerry confronts calls from growing numbers of Democrats to establish a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. That idea will receive a major boost today when Win Without War, a coalition of 42 liberal groups, launches a campaign urging the U.S. to set a date for ending its military presence in Iraq.
From the other direction, Bush has come much closer to Kerry's view that the U.S. should rely more on the United Nations to oversee the transition from occupation to a sovereign Iraqi government, thus blurring the contrast between the two men.
In the long run, these shifts in Democratic attitudes and Bush's strategy may pressure Kerry to break more sharply from the administration on Iraq, a step he has firmly resisted.
The Times reports that 53% of Democrats now favor the cut-and-run strategy, even if it means civil war in Iraq. Of course, Nader pushes this option as his policy, intending on draining Kerry from the left (and possibly picking off a few America-First Republicans from Bush if he can). Kerry's strategy for Iraq has never been clear, which is another problem for his campaign. All he's done over the past several months is complain about "fraudulent coalitions" while Italian and Polish troops die alongside Americans and Brits, while offering no specific changes in Bush's approach other than to "formally rejoin the community of nations". Now all of that, er, nuance comes back to bite Kerry as Bush arranges for more UN involvement, such as the Brahimi mission to certify Iraq's sovereignty and establish a basis for representative government.
The Times echoes my long-established argument that Kerry's lack of convictions will inevitably rebound against him, especially in a three-way race. While Dean imploded spectacularly in the winter, Democrats saw Kerry as the electable candidate, a seasoned pol with glittering medals who could challenge Bush on foreign policy. Kerry encouraged this by adjusting his rhetoric to match that of the firebrand Dean on the war, leading his constituency to believe that Kerry had decided to bail out of Iraq. Lo and behold, however, the country as a whole did not like the notion of running away, perhaps unhappy with the news coming from Iraq but unwilling to surrender the entire nation to the fanatics. Kerry has since tried moving back to the center but is now caught between the pull of the leftists and the determination of the centrists.
Now he faces two options, neither of which look particularly attractive. On one hand, he could change his position and start calling for unilateral withdrawal from Iraq and hope to push Nader out of the race. Besides being catastrophic policy for the US, though, it opens Kerry to charges of flip-flopping yet again on this issue and demonstrates a lack of will that may unnerve the centrists and independents in November. On the other hand, he could stand pat and watch as Nader continues to drain his base from the Bush-hating left, if not of tremendous amounts of votes, certainly of funding and enthusiasm, a quality he hardly inspires anyway. Perhaps he could fire up enthusiasm on economic policy, a la Clinton, but that's unlikely in the midst of an economic expansion.
If nothing else, Kerry is a political tactician -- after all, he's drafted behind Ted Kennedy most of his career, using the senior Massachussetts Senator to draw fire while he votes to Kennedy's left. I predict Kerry will announce at the convention that he now favors withdrawal in order to garner a Nader endorsement for the general election, and gamble that the transfer of power produces an increase in violence that will overcome the disgust of retreat that centrists and independents will surely feel.Sphere It View blog reactions
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