John Kerry says he can “put a deal together” as president to drastically reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq, a pledge reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the Vietnam War and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s promise to stop fighting in Korea.
Like those Republican presidential candidates, the Democrat’s blueprint for peace lacks detail and has critics squawking.
With voters skittish about the death toll in Iraq, Kerry is pinning blame on President Bush and his shaky relationships with allies who have refused to support U.S. troops with soldiers of their own. The four-term Massachusetts senator suggests he has back-channel assurances that foreign leaders would do more if he were president.
“There is a potential to be able to put a deal together over the course of time,” Kerry told The Associated Press in his first interview as the Democratic nominee. “At least, that is the perception that smart people like Joe Biden and, you know, Carl Levin and other leaders who’ve been there for a long time.”
He said his fellow Democratic senators, reporting on their foreign travels, have told him, “A change in the presidency is essential to our ability to restore our respect and relationship.”
But when asked for hard evidence that his victory would produce a troops-reducing deal for America, neither Kerry nor his fellow senators cite anything other than their vague perceptions and utmost hopes.
“I can’t give you the details of any deal, obviously,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday. “You don’t negotiate a deal until you have a leader who is there to negotiate a deal.”
'Intense' distrust of Bush
Levin said he has talked to foreign leaders about potential changes in their Iraq policies after the U.S. election. “Nobody is going to say what the details of the deal are. They simply report to us that distrust of the administration is so intense that you can’t take a risk” and deploy troops to Iraq, he said.
“I’m not going to tell you which foreign leaders, because I’d be breaking the confidence of foreign leaders that I’ve met,” said Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Last spring, Kerry said foreign leaders preferred him to Bush, though he also refused to identify any.
Levin wavered on the question of whether any foreign leader promised to get more involved in Iraq if Kerry wins. “It seems to be that’s the basic implication,” he said at first.
But has any leader made a commitment?
No, he replied.
“I’m not in position nor should I attempt to negotiate with a foreign government,” Levin said.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a top Kerry adviser, thinks Kerry could sway allies better than the president, said spokesman Norm Kurz. But that’s only hypothetical — “I don’t think there’s a guarantee,” he said.
Kerry is only the latest presidential candidate to offer unspecified plans for peace.
In 1952, Eisenhower was running against Democrat Adlai Stevenson to replace unpopular incumbent Harry Truman when he promised to “concentrate on the job of ending the Korea war. ... That job requires a personal trip to Korea,” he said. “I shall go to Korea.”
Truman called the pledge a “desperate attempt to get votes.” When Eisenhower went to Korea between his Election Day victory and his inauguration, Truman called it “a piece of demagoguery.”
Just as tough on Kerry
Republicans are just as tough on Kerry.
“John Kerry has an enormous lack of credibility on this issue,” said Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt.
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Kerry’s plan assumes too much.
“Nobody is going to bail us out of our responsibilities in this conflict,” said Cordesman, former adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “It is not a matter of who is the president at this point. There simply won’t be any international support for a country like France or Germany to do it.”
Kerry voted against the first Persian Gulf War, which threw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991. Eleven years later, he voted to give Bush authority to use force against Saddam, then voted against a bill to help pay for the conflict as anti-war sentiment threatened to undermine his bid for the Democratic nomination.
In 1968, Nixon sought political gain from anti-war fervor when he touted a secret plan to end the Vietnam War. Kerry, a decorated veteran of that conflict, reminds some of Nixon when he talks of vague deals with foreign leaders.
“I don’t care what it sounds like,” Kerry told ABC. “The fact is that I’m not going to negotiate in public today without the presidency.”
The Vietnam War ended after Nixon left office. Eisenhower oversaw the 1953 Korean War armistice. The insurgency in Iraq shows no sign of easing, with two U.S. soldiers killed Monday and bombers on Tuesday killing three Iraqi national guardsmen, a police chief and a patrolman.