On Iraq, John Kerry may not be all that different than George W. Bush, though he has bent himself into a pretzel to dissipate that impression. But one thing that I still can?t figure out is this business about not sending more troops to Iraq. While Kerry didn?t rule that out in the past, he has favored asking other countries to contribute troops.
At the same time he said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention that he would add ?40,000 active duty troops ? not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended and under pressure.?
On Sunday, asked about whether he would send more troops, Kerry replied: ?I don't envision it. I believe that my leadership and my plan to approach these countries ? and I'm not negotiating it publicly ? I know what I want to do. I know what I believe can be achieved.?
OK, so here is a cautious Kerry, who isn?t negotiating publicly, presumably because it might weaken his bargaining hand when he approaches those allies that, he says, the Bush administration has alienated. But then he goes out and blows the whole thing by making it fairly clear that he will not increase troop levels in Iraq ? a fairly irresponsible vulnerability to so brazenly telegraph to both friends and foes, who will surely use that to assume a Kerry administration has little staying power in Iraq, and act accordingly.
This is reminiscent of Bill Clinton in Kosovo. Initially, the president refused to commit ground troops and made that fairly clear; Milosevic, sensing American reluctance, held out against weeks of destructive air strikes. Only when Clinton changed his mind and the threat of a ground war became very real did the Yugoslav leader fold.
Whether there are enough soldiers or not in Iraq is not for me to say, nor is Kerry obligated to boost troop numbers. But that?s the kind of information that is better kept to oneself, even during an election campaign. Plus, go figure why Kerry has actually compounded this mistake by earlier ruling out sending to Iraq the 40,000 new troops he intends to raise; after all the Arabs and Europeans are, at best, likely to agree to dispatch only token forces, assuming the Iraqis agree, which is far from certain. Shouldn?t Kerry be cutting himself some slack here?
Worse, isn?t he sort of doing what he accuses the Bush administration of having done ? namely paying a high price today because it initially tried to fight the Iraq war on the cheap by limiting the number of American soldiers deployed?