Is John Kerry America's Joe Clark? There's reason to think so. Mercifully, there are more reasons to think otherwise.
The Democratic presidential candidate's judgment on big issues has been as faulty as the former Tory leader's was.
In 1991, the senator voted against the Gulf War. He argued for giving Saddam Hussein time for a diplomatic solution to the occupation of Kuwait.
In 1994, he sided with Bill Clinton's hands-off approach to the genocide in Rwanda.
In 2002, he voted for the invasion of Iraq — an illegal war, now officially deemed so by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Kerry has argued that he voted for the war to avoid it. He was only strengthening George W. Bush's hand in tackling Saddam.
Kerry also has a convoluted explanation of why he opposed funding for the war he approved: "I did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
He says he now realizes Bush misled America into war. Yet he insists that, had he known what he knows now, he would have still voted for the war.
That's not all.
Last week, he was asked if there were any circumstances that would've justified the war? He said: "None that I can see."
He says the $200 billion (U.S.) spent on Iraq could have helped fix health care and schools in America. Nonetheless, he favours spending whatever it takes to fix Iraq.
He does not agree that Iraq is a quagmire and he wants American troops to stay. But he "would get them home in my first term."
His trouble is that he is in broad agreement with Bush's policy, differing only on the details of its execution. He would get NATO allies to share the burden, enticing them with better diplomatic manners and promises of business deals.
He does not seem to grasp the one great triumph of this age: the overwhelming power of anti-American public opinion, which forces governments in Canada, France, Germany and Mexico, not to speak of the Muslim world, to stay away from Iraq.
He also fundamentally misunderstands the growing Iraqi insurgency and civil war.
He thinks, like Bush, that setting a deadline for departure would encourage insurgents and terrorists, and splinter Iraq.
But exactly the opposite may be true. So long as there's no prospect of an American exit, the resistance can only grow.
If Iraq is Bush's Achilles' heel, Kerry has made it his as well.
However, there is hope.
As muddled as Kerry has been, Bush has flipped-flopped even more. He is, in Kerry's words, "the biggest say-one-thing, do-another" president in memory.
Kerry also seems to have at last grasped some of the central tenets of this campaign.
The economy, environment and health care are important, and he must lay down policies, especially as a buffer against unforeseen developments in Iraq or the possible October surprise of an Osama bin Laden capture. But this election is really a referendum on Iraq.
Iraq is the shorthand for all that's wrong with the Bush presidency. A majority of Americans not only have doubts about the invasion and the troubled occupation, they also are disturbed by all the lies surrounding it. They are looking for some moral clarity, even while seeking security.
Kerry is beginning to oblige.
His message is getting sharper as he takes on Bush on his own turf: homeland security.
"America is safer and stronger when it is respected around the world, not feared."
America is less safe because Bush has "pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history."
Iraq "is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Iraq is spinning out of control, while Bush is living "in a fantasy world of spin" that all is peachy.
However, rhetoric alone won't save Kerry, especially since it is measured against all his previous words. He needs a plan.
Here's what he can say, without contradicting himself.
- America will start counting the Iraqi dead and injured.
That will end the racism of discounting the value of Arab lives.
Troops will know that America is in Iraq to free Iraqis, not to kill and maim them, as is happening in renewed military onslaughts on Falluja and Mosul.
The military says it is hitting only "insurgents," "militants," "enemy fighters" and "terrorists," but news accounts keep cataloguing civilian deaths, including those of children, prompting the head of the Falluja hospital to say: "The American army has no morals."
Citing the immorality of the suicide bombers and others won't excuse American sins in Iraqi eyes.
- America will do all in its power to hold, not postpone, the planned elections for a National Assembly in January.
It will do so by providing full protection to the United Nations staff assigned to the task.
- America will gradually pull out of Iraq.
The timetable will be set in consultation with the elected representatives, not the puppet regime in Baghdad, which has zero credibility with the people.
- America will consider a United Nations trusteeship for Iraq, should the elected representatives want it.
- America will honour all the rules of the Geneva Convention in dealing with detainees.
- America will follow the rule of law and due process in dealing with terrorism suspects in the United States. It cannot preach democracy abroad while violating its basic precepts at home.
All of the above principles are in keeping with Kerry's pledge that "we do not have long-term designs to maintain bases and troops in Iraq."
And these principles are in the spirit of the moral courage Kerry displayed in opposing the Vietnam War after serving there heroically.
America is badly in need, once again, of hearing from someone who has the inner strength to tell the truth.
© Copyright 2004 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited