”I think there is a fundamental difference here in terms of their approach to the world,” said Samuel L. Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, who now advises Kerry. ”I think this administration believes you go it alone and you use allies when necessary, and I think John believes that you use allies whenever possible and go it alone when necessary.”
Does that seem a little….abstract for a presidential campaign? It does to me.
Berger’s quote is from an article by Farah Stockman in the Boston Globe today that highlights a key Kerry problem: as Kerry moves rightward after the primaries, and as Bush becomes more receptive to ideas that Kerry has long championed ? 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 ? Kerry loses any chance of distinguishing himself from Bush over foreign policy.
This strikes me as a serious problem. National security is almost certain to be the defining issue of the campaign, and there’s just no way for Kerry to get any traction there if his positions aren’t clearly distinguishable from Bush’s. And despite the pro-war partisans’ continuing fantasy that George Bush is dedicated to the same kind of vast war of civilizations they are, the fact is that Bush has adopted an awful lot of Democratic positions in the past year. Aside from rhetorical tone, it’s getting harder and harder for Kerry to find points of disagreement that are more than just nitpicking.
Unfortunately, that leaves only a charge of incompetence: Bush is prosecuting the war poorly and getting American soldiers needlessly killed. But that’s a charge that’s unlikely to stick. As John F. Kennedy said when his popularity rating shot up after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, “The worse I do, the more popular I get!”
I think that’s exactly right. If the war goes poorly, a lot of people are likely to rally around Bush, not toss him out of office. And that means that if John Kerry wants to win, he has to figure out some genuinely bold and popular foreign policy initiative to identify himself with. But what?