When John Kerry in a recent speech refocused his campaign by targeting George W. Bush’s war on Iraq, he pounded Bush for having “misled, miscalculated and mismanaged every aspect of this undertaking.” Answering critics who have claimed he has no plan for Iraq, Kerry once again touted proposals he has been pushing for months. His “alternative” essentially calls for internationalizing the mess in Iraq by coaxing or pressuring other nations to participate in an accelerated reconstruction program, to provide more financial assistance and debt relief and to engage in various security functions, such as protecting the United Nations mission in charge of the upcoming elections and patrolling the borders. As President, Kerry said, he would convene a summit of major nations and Arab states to move others to share responsibility for rebuilding Iraq. He would push NATO allies to become more involved in training Iraqi security forces. He would de-Halliburtonize Iraqi reconstruction by employing more Iraqi contractors and by offering companies in other countries greater opportunity to bid on contracts. He would press for long-term power-sharing arrangements among Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites.
With this plan, a collection of steps designed to achieve increments of progress, Kerry and his aides signal that they realize Bush has created a predicament in Iraq with no obvious solution. Still, they believe the United States should remain militarily engaged in Iraq and take a stab at producing a reasonably stable country that would not be home to large swaths of uncontrolled territory suitable for use by anti-American terrorists. They argue that a new administration more committed to internationalism would have a brief window of opportunity in which the United States could persuade allies and Arab nations that it is in their interest to assist a US-led effort to avert the further destabilization there. But Kerry’s plan is not a bold and daring counter to what George W. Bush has done (invade now and ask questions later–or not). It is not a withdrawal. It is not a six-point program promising peace and democracy in Iraq and the swift return of American troops.
Kerry’s foreign policy advisers–including former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Senator Joe Biden and former National Security Council aide Rand Beers–are all what one campaign adviser calls “hardheaded internationalists. Their fundamental approach is interdependency.” They want to transform Bush’s problem in Iraq into one accepted by the entire world, hoping additional support from other nations will increase the odds that the disorder can be contained and perhaps undone. Kerry, one adviser notes, is not obsessed with the war as a project “to bring democracy to the region. A democratic Iraq would be good. But this is not an ideological goal for Kerry. His goal is a stabilized Iraq that is not a threat.”
Knowing that a plan for muddling through with greater overseas assistance lacks punch and appeal, Kerry’s advisers maintain that the man is more important than the plan, that the crucial point is that Kerry would not have steered the United States into a fiasco in Iraq. They also make the reasonable case that it is difficult for Kerry to present a specific how-to blueprint because it is unknown what a President Kerry would encounter come January 20, 2005. Speaking with reporters after Kerry’s speech, Biden noted that Kerry’s actions will depend on whether he “inherits a Lebanon” [an Iraq in chaos]. “If things are moving along”–meaning elections and the training of Iraqi security forces–“then there is the probability we can draw down troops likely by the summer [of 2005] and be out of there within four years,” Biden says. What if it’s Lebanon? Biden is vague. Joe Lockhart, a new Kerry senior adviser, quickly adds, “We’ll stay away from answering hypotheticals.”