"President Bush has been able to mobilize his manifest failure as a political asset, and the Kerry campaign has allowed him to do so," he says. There were many points at which this war could've been a "success" (under several definitions) - but now, "thinking people," he argues, can't really call the war anything besides an unmitigated failure. And the failure is working for Bush because:
Recently, President Bush has sought -- with real success -- to edge Iraq out of the campaign dialogue by putting the issue back on to Kerry, asking what he would do differently and how it would produce a better result.I would insert a "should" in the last sentence because I don't think Americans know it's Bush's fault. They don't seem to call him on it, anyway. Part of me can't wait for 20 years to pass so this election really can be studied in a less passionate way. But it's those 20 years that make me passionate now. For whatever criticisms Dems and Reeps have of Kerry, the fact remains this election is about so much more than just one man. It's about 1000 and rising in Iraq; 3000 in New York and Washington,DC; 10,000 more in Iraq (not in U.S. uniforms); it's about unexplained explosions in North Korea; heavy-water factories in Iran; lost friends in Europe; and the world's tenuous hold on peace. And why on earth would we leave even four of those next 20 years in the hands of the man who got us into this mess to begin with? If someone can give me a good reason - and no horses-in-midstream or they'll-come-after-us-more reasons will do, thanks - to give Bush one more chance with my personal safety, I'll gladly listen. But save the fear tactics for someone less thoughtful. I'm not buying it anymore.
This puts Kerry in a bit of a bind because the politically-unspeakable answer here is that there are no good solutions anymore. A year ago, even six months ago, there
were. Now, there really aren't.
President Bush at least has a straightforward approach: denial. Pressed to come up with a soundbite-able and practical policy, Kerry is, well ... hard-pressed.
(As I said, President Bush, in this way, has managed to derive political advantage from the magnitude of his own failure.)
Politically, Kerry needs to ignore the commentators who will press him to come up with a twenty point plan that will immediately rectify the situation in Iraq. Yes, he needs to give an idea of what he'll do if and when he takes over. But the emphasis should be on the undeniable fact that though the way forward may be murky, the last person you want to lead the country down that foggy path is the guy who screwed everything up so badly in the first place.
As my friend John Judis noted recently, the key to winning an election is often simply a matter of bringing to the surface of the public consciousness what voters already really know. They know Iraq is a disaster. They know it's President Bush's fault.