The White House Derby
updated 5/6/2004 4:23:19 PM ET 2004-05-06T20:23:19

The 2004 campaign mystery deepened this week: George W. Bush faces as perilous a foreign policy impasse as any president in the past 25 years, and yet presumptive Democratic candidate John Kerry still lags behind him in opinion polls.

Noting the frustration in the party’s ranks, some Democrats say Kerry should be ahead by 10 points. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday, Kerry trailed Bush with 42 percent to the president’s 46 percent, with Ralph Nader at five percent.

This was despite the finding that 49 percent of those interviewed said that Bush does not deserve a second term as president and 60 percent said they think that the United States isn’t really in control of the situation in Iraq.

Just as telling, some polls in states, such as Pennsylvania, where Kerry ought to be well ahead, showed a tie.

A national Gallup poll released Thursday also showed a dead heat with Bush and Kerry each garnering 47 percent, while Nader received 3 percent.

The most significant quotes of the past campaign week came not from the presidential candidates or their campaign strategists but from a hawkish House Democrat and from a former Defense Department analyst.

Ex-Marine Rep. John Murtha, always a stalwart supporter of the military, said, “We cannot prevail in this war as the policy is going today. ... The direction has got to be changed or it’s unwinnable.”

Two choices on Iraq
Murtha presented two choices that neither Bush nor Kerry may be willing to take: either mobilize a bigger military, which Murtha said would entail a draft, or “we have to get out” of Iraq.

Former Pentagon analyst and Iraq expert Anthony Cordesman, back from an 11-day trip to the Middle East, brought grim news for Bush, concluding that “any military solution (in Iraq) is now likely to be the kind of ‘victory’ that creates a new firestorm over excessive force, civilian casualties, and collateral damage. At the same time, the U.S. cannot hope to kill or arrest all of the Sunni and foreign insurgents that exist now and is almost certain to create far more than it destroys.”

Cordesman added, “The U.S. lacks good options other than to turn as much of the political, aid, and security effort over to moderate Iraqis as soon as possible, and pray that the U.N. can create some kind of climate for political legitimacy.”

At this moment, with the furor over American mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and hawks such as Murtha worrying Iraq is “unwinnable,” Kerry chose to mount the biggest purchase of broadcast and cable TV time by either presidential campaign so far this year.

But the $25 million worth of ads did not offer a new Iraq policy.

Instead the ads focused on Vietnam and Kerry’s Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts 35 years ago. Was Kerry missing an opportunity?

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