April 26, 2004


Kerry faces PR fight over foreign policy (Farah Stockman, April 26, 2004, Boston Globe)

In a presidential race dominated by national security issues, Kerry's success may hinge on whether voters are convinced that his ability to forge ties with allies can make America safer than President Bush's more unilateral approach. Lately, the differences between the candidates have sometimes been hard to detect.

But in public opinion surveys, Bush trumps the Massachusetts senator on those issues. A USA Today/ CNN/ Gallup poll released last week indicated that 41 percent of respondents said they thought ''only Bush" would do a good job handling terrorism, while 20 percent said ''only Kerry" would. On the situation in Iraq, 40 percent indicated ''only Bush," while 26 percent indicated Kerry. Those numbers come in one of the most troublesome news cycles for the Bush administration, as the Sept. 11 commission hearings and the rising violence in Iraq have raised questions about Bush's conduct on both issues.

The poll numbers also come as Bush and Kerry have increasingly echoed each other's statements on foreign policy, complicating Kerry's struggle to distinguish himself in voters' minds and maintain the support of antiwar Democrats.

Bush is beginning to adopt measures that Kerry has long advocated: giving the United Nations a far greater role in Iraq, emphasizing the importance of welcoming NATO to Iraq, and beefing up the number of US troops in Iraq.

The president's moves have generated a mixed reaction among Kerry's advisers, some of whom have urged him to take credit for the change.

''It is the greatest form of flattery in a sense, isn't it?" Beers said.

But others see a danger for Kerry in Bush's new pronouncements.

''The nightmare for Kerry is that all of his criticisms become moot, except the woulda-shoulda-coulda criticism about the war," said Walter Russell Mead, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. ''In this sense, voters are going to say to themselves: 'What's the difference? If I vote for Kerry, I will get a war in Iraq and someone who doesn't believe in the war but is going to have to fight it anyway. If I vote for Bush, I get a war in Iraq, fought by somebody who believes in the war.' "

Kerry also has appeared to take on positions more associated with Bush, and in recent weeks has endorsed Bush's foreign policy decisions more than once. When Bush lauded the plan by Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to withdraw from Gaza and keep some settlements in the West Bank, Kerry agreed. He also agreed that Palestinians should not expect to gain the right to return to Israel, and he suggested that Israel has a right to defend itself by killing leaders of the Islamic militant group Hamas. In recent weeks, Kerry also has said that he would act alone, if necessary, to protect America's interests -- a hallmark of Bush's presidency -- and that he would stay in Iraq as long as necessary to bring stability to the country.

''I think they are moving toward a merge," Mead said. ''Most of the people I talk to don't think there's going to be that much difference between them, in substance, because the options are so limited. I think in a second term, the Bush administration would try to get more foreign support, and a Kerry administration would sometimes have to go it alone."

Foreign policy will only be an issue in this election to the extent that it enables Ralph Nader to siphon off some of the lunatic Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2004 8:23 AM

Kerry still has plenty of medals left to throw over the White House fence. In lieu of a coherent foreign policy, that ought to keep the far left of the party happy for a while.

Posted by: John at April 26, 2004 9:19 AM

Kerry will lurch back to the left when he discovers that his base is eroding. Then he will doe see doe to the right when he sees swing voters fleeing in horror. By the time November comes around only a few sufferers of Bush Derangement Syndrome will vote for him.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 26, 2004 9:57 AM