Gloom Is Not a Plan
Is John Kerry's personality winning enough to win in Iraq?

The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, September 30, 2004

Pro-Kerry pundits were thrilled when their man finally took a seemingly clear position on Iraq: that the war effort there is, as he put it in a Monday morning speech last week, "a profound diversion" that "has left America less secure." Since polls show that a majority of Americans are uneasy about the situation in Iraq, Mr. Kerry's supporters thought that he had found the way to tap into popular sentiment.

But gloom is not a plan. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted between Thursday and Sunday found that 56% of registered voters do not believe John Kerry has "a clear plan for dealing with the situation in Iraq." Only 38% say he does. (By contrast, 53% said President Bush has a clear plan, and 44% said he doesn't.)

Tonight's debate will probably be Mr. Kerry's last chance to persuade voters that he has a plan. All indications, however, are that he doesn't. In an interview last week with National Public Radio, Mr. Kerry stubbornly refused to say what he would do as president, on the ground that "I can't hypothesize as to what I am going to find on Jan. 20." What his campaign ads have described as his "plan" is in fact four pieces of advice to President Bush: bolster international support, improve training of Iraqi security forces, improve reconstruction efforts, and move toward elections next year. How this differs from Mr. Bush's plan is anyone's guess.

Mr. Kerry's strongest argument, at least in the minds of his supporters, is that he would be a more able diplomat, better equipped to convert antagonists into allies. But when it comes to countries that are already allies, he hasn't exactly been Dale Carnegie. He has long disparaged what he calls the "coalition of the coerced and the bribed." Last week he all but called Iraq's Prime Minister Ayad Allawi a liar, and a Kerry aide described Mr. Allawi as "a puppet of the United States." And Diane Kerry, the candidate's sister and chief campaigner for expat votes, told a newspaper in Australia that terrorists have targeted that country because it "has kept faith with the U.S."

In the NPR interview, Mr. Kerry did make this promise: "I believe as a new president, with new credibility, with a fresh start, that I have the ability to be able to change the dynamics on the ground." Thus voters are left to decide if Mr. Kerry's personality alone is winning enough to win in Iraq.

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