• April 15, 2004 | 3:03 PM ET
KERRY AND THE PATRIOTS
John Kerry has it tough. As I've mentioned before, he's been trying to send a positive message on the war when many people in his own party are actively rooting for the other side.
The problem is of long standing (as my earlier post noted) but it got worse for him this week, when the St. Petersburg Democratic Club ran a rather unattractive newspaper ad on the war. The ad got a lot of attention, and most of it was focused on the ad's violent language directed at Donald Rumsfeld:
"We should put this S.O.B. up against a wall and say 'This is one of our bad days,' and pull the trigger."
But, sadly, there was more. The ad also praises the "Iraqi insurgents" who are trying to kill American troops:
The Bush Bunch calls the Iraqis insurgents. Did you know that Britain called the American revolutionaries insurgents and traitors? The Iraqis aren't insurgents. They're Iraqi patriates [sic] who want us the hell out of their country, and we should get the hell out of their country now!
Once again, siding with the enemy like this isn't opposing war, it's, well, siding with the enemy. (Not to mention flunking spelling.) And Kerry has trouble even talking about trying to win the war:
During a question-and-answer session with the audience, retired college professor Walter Daum angrily accused Kerry of backing an imperialist policy in Iraq and called on the candidate to demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"You voted for this," Daum shouted. As he spoke, a group stood silently and unfurled a large sign that read, "Kerry take a stand: Troops out now."
"You're not listening," an exasperated Kerry said at one point.
Later, speaking with reporters, Kerry dismissed the notion of withdrawing American forces and indicated that if U.S. generals and other senior officials say they need more troops, he would back such a move. Bush at his news conference Tuesday night said he would support an increase in the military presence in Iraq.
"I think the vast majority of the American people understand that it's important to not just cut and run," Kerry said. "I don't believe in a cut-and-run philosophy."
Kerry's problem is that a lot of the Democratic base -- and in particularly a lot of the noisy Democratic base -- sees things differently. He's gotten into the race by stressing his differences with Bush on the war, but he's going to have a hard time being elected if he can't stress his differences with the anti-American elements within his party.
As this example demonstrates, that's going to be hard. But it seems certain that Kerry can't be elected President if he's seen as the candidate of a party that can't even spell the word "patriot."
• April 15, 2004 | 11:40 AM ET
QUESTIONS NOT ASKED
The post-press conference line is that Bush didn't answer the hard questions. That's probably true -- but in no small part, it's because the hard questions weren't asked. I've given some thought to questions that the press could have asked but didn't. Here's my favorite:
A year after the invasion, the Marines are seeking donations from blog readers to set up TV stations in Iraq so as to counter anti-American propaganda from Al Jazeera and other hostile media. Why wasn't this a priority from day one? Why isn't it one now?
You can argue about a lot of things in the pre- and post-war planning: One complication was that we won on the ground in three weeks instead of several months, as we expected, meaning that follow-on forces weren't ready when they were needed. But you don't blame people in this sort of setting when things don't work out according to plan, so much as when they fail to display adaptability once that happens. The United States has done a very poor job of managing the propaganda side of this war, and if that was forgivable in the short run, well, it's not the short run anymore.
What about reports of Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq? What do you plan to do about this, and about Iran's ongoing efforts to acquire nuclear weapons?
I don't know what Bush would have said to this. Maybe Bush didn't either. Too bad nobody asked it.
Why didn't you fire responsible people like George Tenet after 9/11?
There are good answers to this, I think -- along lines of the "don't fire the plumber just after the toilet overflows" -- but it would have been good to hear Bush's answer.
You've said yourself that the war on terror is as much a war of ideas as a military struggle. What are we doing to fight that war?
Call me crazy, but I think we would have learned more from questions like these than from the gotcha-style questions we actually got. But it's not too late for the press to start asking them.
• April 14, 2004 | 10:53 PM ET
VIETNAM ALL OVER AGAIN?
President Bush responded impatiently to suggestions, in Tuesday's press conference, that Iraq was like Vietnam. And militarily, he's right, of course. As Ramesh Ponnuru observed,
It's just like Vietnam . . . Except that we've captured Ho Chi Minh, we've taken Hanoi, there's no draft, and the boat people have mostly come back.
But it's like Vietnam in another sense, which is that the so-called "anti-war" people are, in fact, rooting for the troops -- the ones on the other side. It's gotten bad enough that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is disturbed by the e-mail he's getting from "peace" advocates. As Kristof writes:
Frankly, it chills me that well-meaning people are hoping that young Americans will be maimed and killed so as to punish the hawks and lessen their chances of holding on to power.
Of course, people who root against their country in time of war (the quaint term for such is "traitors") aren't "well-meaning" at all. Nor are they for peace, or against war. They're just on the other side. Am I "questioning their patriotism?" No. They've already put it beyond question.
It's no wonder that some people are finding themselves ashamed to be Democrats today. This kind of thing nearly destroyed the Democratic Party in the Vietnam era, and saddled Democrats with a reservoir of distrust where national security matters are concerned that continues to dog them. John Kerry is trying to distance himself from these sorts of sentiments, a move for which he deserves praise. But there are a lot of people among the Democratic Party's activist base who feel this way. For these Democrats, it's Vietnam all over again. Will Kerry be able to find a way out of this quagmire?
• April 13, 2004 | 8:33 PM ET
KERRY SPEAKS OUT ON IRAQ...
..Well, sort of. John Kerry wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post today on Iraq. Parts of it were good, and praiseworthy. Like this:
While we may have differed on how we went to war, Americans of all political persuasions are united in our determination to succeed. The extremists attacking our forces should know they will not succeed in dividing America, or in sapping American resolve, or in forcing the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops. Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission.
Given that many terrorists think that the United States will cut and run if Bush isn't reelected, statements like this are sure to sap their will and discourage efforts -- as in Spain -- to affect the U.S. elections via terror. Kerry's statement can't be repeated often enough.
Unfortunately, the rest of the piece is rather short on specifics. Kerry wants more international cooperation, but that's going to be tough. International cooperation didn't work in Rwanda, it didn't work in Yugoslavia until the United States took the lead, and it didn't deal with Saddam -- indeed, as we've learned since the war, France, Russia, and Germany were flouting the sanctions imposed by the "international community." International cooperation is nice to have, but hard to get. Kerry doesn't say what he'll do if his efforts to secure cooperation have no more success than seems likely, but I suspect he'll need a fallback plan.
Blogger Patrick Belton is skeptical:
My take: this piece includes a number of notes - some anti-war, some more hawkish - which Kerry will be trying out in public over the next few weeks, while the campaign is still in a low stage of intensity, to develop the views that he judges will meet with the best public response. A great deal of his ultimate foreign policy stance will depend on the result, and is currently up for grabs.
Sounds a bit, um, waffle-ish to me.
Roger Simon is more charitable: "Events on the ground are so fluid, one can hardly blame him for not having much to say. Any definitive pronouncement could turn around and bite him in the leg three days later." That's true enough, though such comments lend themselves to waffling -- and Kerry himself criticizes the Bush Administration for fluidity in its own policies, which seems a bit of a contradiction.
Still, this far from the election we at least want clear principles. Today we got two: No cut-and-run, and an effort to get cooperation. It's a long way from clarity, but it's progress.
• April 13, 2004 | 12:52 PM ET
PRIVATE SPACEFLIGHT TAKES OFF...
...Literally, in this case. Last Thursday the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates such things, issued a launch license to aviation pioneer Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites company. It was the government's first license award for a manned suborbital flight.
Rutan -- who wants to make spaceflight more like aviation -- wasted no time in putting it to use:
Built by Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, the piloted vehicle was powered by a hybrid rocket motor to over 105,000 feet. The engine burned for 40 seconds, zipping to Mach 2, or two times the speed of sound, according to a source that witnessed the test flight high above Mojave, California skies.
Rutan's goal is to make commercial human flights into outer space -- space tourism -- a reality within ten years. Tourism, as I've noted here before, is likely to play an essential role in developing the experience base, and the efficiencies of scale, to make more energetic, and lower-cost, space activity possible. I wish them luck -- and I wish I had a ticket to ride.
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