Bush/Kerry Impossible to Distinguish from Each Other
Bush and Kerry have the same policy on iraq and are becoming more alike all the time. Both of them support more troops to Iraq.
New York Times
Candidates' Iraq Policies Share Many Similarities
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and RICHARD W. STEVENSON
WASHINGTON, May 25 — When it comes to Iraq, it is getting harder every day to distinguish between President Bush's prescription and that of Senator John Kerry.
They still differ on some details, and Mr. Kerry continues to assert that Mr. Bush has lost so much credibility around the world that only a new president can rally other nations to provide the necessary assistance, a point he made Tuesday while campaigning in Oregon.
But as became evident with Mr. Bush's latest speech on Iraq on Monday night, which followed a detailed speech Mr. Kerry gave on Iraq's future one month ago, the broad outlines of their approaches are more alike than not. That is particularly true as Mr. Bush moves toward giving the United Nations more authority, a move long advocated by Mr. Kerry.
They both support the June 30 deadline for the beginning of the transition to civilian power. They both say they would support an increase in United States troop strength, if necessary. Neither has supported a deadline for removing United States troops.
Mr. Bush's gradual shift away from what many Democrats have long denounced as a go-it-alone stance is an adjustment to the surge in violence in Iraq, as well as the deterioration of domestic support for the occupation in the wake of the prison abuse scandal.
But there also is clearly a political component at play here, as the White House seeks, while managing its own problems, to create a predicament for Mr. Bush's Democratic opponent. Mr. Kerry this week is beginning a series of speeches in which he will lay out some of his most detailed foreign policy pronouncements.
The fact that Mr. Bush has moved close to Mr. Kerry on some of these questions makes it much more difficult for Mr. Kerry to take advantage of what Democrats and Republicans view as the biggest political crisis of Mr. Bush's presidency, by emphasizing differences between them. Mr. Kerry is left to argue that while both men have similar ideas about what to do, he has more credibility to do it, given the breakdown in relations between Mr. Bush and many world leaders over Iraq.
Mr. Kerry has negotiated the shifting sands of Iraq for more than a year now. Some Democrats said that their candidate would just as soon stand back and not engage Mr. Bush on the war, allowing the president to struggle with setbacks, while avoiding making himself a target should Mr. Bush attempt to suggest that he is not supporting the troops.
But as Mr. Kerry is well aware, there is a growing antiwar segment of the American electorate. And there is likely to be an antiwar candidate on the ballot, in the person of Ralph Nader, the independent candidate who has called for an withdrawal of American forces.
In another sign of the complication Mr. Kerry faces, Al Gore, one of the party's severest critics of the war, is to deliver a speech in New York on Wednesday that is expected to call for the dismissal of top administration officials and assert that Americans have been put at risk at home and abroad by Mr. Bush's foreign policy.
"He's caught between what would be politically advantageous, declaring a timetable for getting out, and what he knows is the reality on the ground, which is that we need more troops," said one adviser who Mr. Kerry relies on heavily. "And the internal debates have often been between the camps in the campaign who want a clear break from the Bush policy and those who want to portray Bush as largely incompetent in executing what strategy they had."
Mr. Kerry's advisers minimized the extent to which Mr. Bush's shifts had made him less vulnerable to criticism on Iraq, and disputed the notion that Mr. Kerry has not, or could not, draw differences with the president on this issue. And they noted a series of recent polls that show both a drop in support for the occupation of Iraq and concern over whether Mr. Bush has a plan to end it, arguing that the issue was more of a problem for Mr. Bush than it was for Mr. Kerry.
"John Kerry as a Democratic candidate for president has said more about how to fix Iraq than the sitting president, the commander-in-chief, the person who lead the nation into this war," said Stephanie Cutter, a senior Kerry advisor.
In a speech last month, Mr. Kerry said the goal of the United States should be to bring about "a stable, free Iraq with a representative government, secure in its borders." That position is broadly indistinguishable from that of Mr. Bush.
The differences, as they exist, are relatively minor. Mr. Kerry has called for NATO to take a major role in Iraq, freeing up American troops and providing an opening to attract military support from non-NATO nations like India and Pakistan.
Mr. Bush has left open the possibility of a larger role for NATO, but has not pressed hard for such a change, and administration officials are skeptical that Europeans have any desire to contribute more assistance than they already have.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Tuesday that Iraq would be discussed at the NATO summit at the end of next month in Turkey, and that 16 of the 26 NATO member nations are already involved in Iraq in some way.
He said that NATO has not ruled out an expanded role in Iraq, but that there is no consensus on what that role would be.
"We should not go into this, as some critics have, thinking that, you know, all you have to do is go to NATO and there is a huge body of troops waiting there just to be asked," Mr. Powell said.
Mr. Kerry has also called for the establishment of a United Nations high commissioner to oversee the political development of Iraq and the rebuilding efforts. Mr. Bush has more or less embraced the need for the United Nations to authorize a multinational force led by the United States — a position long pushed by Mr. Kerry — but has signaled no support for putting additional direct power in the hands of a United Nations commissioner.
The core of Mr. Kerry's argument is that Mr. Bush is now viewed with such low regard in Europe that it would take a new president to put together an international coalition. Mr. Kerry asserted that it would take a new president to "clear the air" and re-establish battered relations with former allies.
Administration officials have been dismissive of Mr. Kerry's idea of putting a United Nations high commissioner in Iraq. They have argued that the Iraqis do not want the United Nations in power any more than they want the United States in power.
"This is not East Timor," one senior administration official said, a reference to the breakaway Indonesian territory where a high commissioner was put in place.
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