One of the more interesting parts of the Bush-Kerry debate in Coral Gables, Florida, was Senator Kerry’s reference to Papa Bush’s Persian Gulf War decision not to go into Baghdad thirteen years ago because there was no viable exit strategy. Undoubtedly, Kerry was intending to needle George W. Bush with this fatherly reference of caution, and perhaps Kerry is choosing to associate himself with Bush pere’s foreign policy. But like most of Kerry’s arguments, this too contains the flawed seeds of contradiction and equivocation.
Regrettably, President George W. Bush did not seize the moment to remind 55 million television viewers that on January 12, 1991, Sen. Kerry actually voted against S.J.RES.2, the congressional authorization that empowered President Bush 41 to liberate Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s cruel invasion. This little bit of history sheds much light on Kerry’s past and casts a dark shadow over any of his new promises to successfully execute today’s war in Iraq.
Time and again on the campaign trail Kerry argues for a grand international alliance to win the Iraq war. He repeated this in the debate. But in 1991 the U.S. headed a grand alliance of 36 nations that was fully backed by a United Nations resolution. And Kerry still opposed that war to liberate Kuwait. The U.N.-backed coalition included Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar. All the pieces were there, including the cause of justice. Still he voted against it. How, knowing this, can anyone believe Kerry when he says he will show us a better way to defeat our terrorist enemies today?
If ever there was a military action that passed the “global test” — which Kerry argued for in the debate — the Persian Gulf War was it. It overwhelmingly met Kerry’s dubious standard — and still he opposed it. This reveals a credibility problem of the first order. Almost defining credulity, Kerry said in a brief statement on the Senate floor, in an accompaniment to his vote against the Persian Gulf War, that “The president made a mistake to unilaterally increase troops, set a date, and make war so probable.”
Clearly, Kerry has a very strong aversion to the use of military power under virtually any circumstance. Of course, this raises serious questions about Kerry’s ability to conduct any military operations against our fundamentalist radical-Islamist enemies. Can we really believe that the man who has called the war in Iraq a “grand diversion,” a “colossal error,” an “incredible mess,” and the “wrong war” in the “wrong place” at the “wrong time” — pessimistic and defeatist statements all — is capable of waging a strong foreign policy and prosecuting a military action of any sort? What’s really left here is the portrait of a politician steeped in ambiguity and equivocation who at bottom has a strong aversion to war of any kind, for any reason.
In one of his better moments in a somewhat energy-less debating performance, President Bush did in fact take Kerry to the woodshed for his notion of a “global test.” So did Bush’s vice president. In a campaign rally after the debate, Dick Cheney said, “We will never seek a permission slip to defend America.”
It seems to me that the American electorate knows full well that what’s at stake come November is not the next secretary general of the United Nations but the next president of the United States. In Bush’s closing statement he said, “I’ll never turn over America’s national-security needs to leaders of other countries. . . . and will continue to spread freedom. I believe in the transformational power of liberty. And I believe both a free Afghanistan and a free Iraq will serve as a powerful example for millions who plead in silence for liberty in the broader Middle East.” This excellent content will triumph over some stylistic mistakes. Kerry’s poor content, however, may have dug him into a deeper electoral hole.
The latest Gallup Poll of 615 registered voters who watched the presidential debate contains some startling results: On debate performance Kerry wins 53 percent to 37 percent. However, as to who would better handle the situation in Iraq, Bush wins 54 to 43. Who do these voters trust more to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief? Bush 54, Kerry 44. Who’s more believable? Bush 50, Kerry 45. More likable? Bush 48, Kerry 41. And the grand whopper — Who is tough enough for the job? Bush 54, Kerry 37.
Surely this shows the good sense of the American voter. Debating points are one thing, but truly strong national-security content is a much more important matter.
— Larry Kudlow, NRO’s Economics Editor, is CEO of Kudlow & Co. and host with Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer.