Published on Thursday, September 23, 2004 by the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)
Kerry's Iraq Plan is Weak
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has begun to stake out a clearer position with regard to the nagging question of how he would manage the occupation of Iraq. And he is beginning to make the necessary distinctions between himself and George W. Bush.
But the Massachusetts senator has a lot of work to do if he wants to convince the American people that he can get this country out of the Middle East quagmire where it is currently stuck.
Speaking at New York University this week, Kerry finally offered an appropriate analysis of how the United States got into the current mess.
"The president misled, miscalculated and mismanaged every aspect of this undertaking and he has made the achievement of our objective - a stable Iraq, secure within its borders, with a representative government - far harder to achieve than it ever should have been."
Where he sounded weaker was in his explanation of how he would get U.S. troops out of Iraq.Kerry said that, if elected, his goal would be to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq within four years. And he said he would try to begin withdrawing troops by next summer. While that is too slow a timetable, at least Kerry is talking about withdrawing troops, rather than sending more in. That's progress.
Unfortunately, he is qualifying that talk by suggesting that Bush must get more countries to help with the transition process. If that doesn't happen, the Democrat says, his exit strategy could be compromised.
In other words, Kerry is already qualifying any promise to get the U.S. troops home in his first term. He's also placing a great deal of faith in the prospect that other countries will want to leap into the quagmire.
That faith is misplaced.
As Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains, "The reality is that, whoever is president, we're not going to get other countries to play a major role in an ongoing insurgency. NATO, regional allies, other countries simply aren't going to commit troops to this kind of mission. It's not their problem."
Perhaps Kerry would have better luck than Bush when it comes to appealing to the United Nations to step in -provided that the United States pays for the initiative - but he should be careful about claiming that other countries will line up to get into Iraq once Bush is gone. That's a silly suggestion.
There will never be an easy time to leave Iraq. But there is a right time: sooner rather than later.
Of course, the United States must do what it can to stabilize the crisis that has been created. But, ultimately, the only way to achieve genuine stability will be for foreign troops to end the occupation. Then it will be up to the Iraqi people to run their own country. That will probably be a messy process, just as the first days of this American experiment were messy. But, just as the founders of this country resisted outside influences, so the Iraqis will do the same.
When all is said and done, it is probable that John Kerry would do a better job of managing the occupation of Iraq than George W. Bush. At the very least, Kerry would cut down on the corruption of that occupation by contractors such as Dick Cheney's old employer, Halliburton.
But if Kerry wants to present himself as a genuine alternative to Bush - and, we suspect, a genuine alternative is more likely to win on Nov. 2 than a pale one - he should put some meat on the bones of his proposal for exiting Iraq. Doing so would capture the imagination of the American people, and create an excitement about voting for Kerry - as opposed to merely voting against Bush.
Copyright 2004 The Capital Times