Kerry has a role now in Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 16-Feb-04 | Author: Thomas Friedman| Source: International Herald Tribune

The situation in Iraq is fast approaching the tipping point. The terrorists know that if they can wreak enough havoc, kill enough Iraqis waiting in line to join their own police force, they can prevent the United Nations from coming up with a plan for elections and a stable transfer of U.S. authority to an Iraqi government.

Once authority is in Iraqi hands, the Baathists and Islamists have a real problem: They can't even pretend to be fighting the United States anymore. It will be clear to all Arabs and Muslims that they are fighting against the freedom and independence of Iraq and for their own lunatic ideologies. Which is why they are desperate to prevent us from reaching that tipping point.

Their strategy is to sow chaos, defeat President George W. Bush and hope that his Democratic successor will pull out. Which is also why at this moment the most important statement on Iraq that can be made - one that could even save lives - is nothing Bush could say. No, the most important statement on Iraq right now could only come from the likely Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry.

Imagine that Tim Russert of NBC followed his excellent interview with Bush with an interview Sunday with Kerry. Here's what I hope it would sound like.

Russert: Senator Kerry, you essentially voted in favor of the war but argued that the way the Bush team carried it out was deeply flawed. Well, now we're there. Tell the American people how you would deal with Iraq going forward.

Kerry: Tim, before I answer that question, I first want to direct a message to the diehard Baathists and Islamo-fascists who have been slaughtering Iraqis struggling to build their first democratic government. And my message to these terrorists is this: Read my lips - if I am president, I will not cut and run.

I will not pull our troops out in the face of your intimidation the way Ronald Reagan fled from Lebanon. Because that panicky retreat from Beirut in 1984 started us down this whole path, where terrorists believed if they hit us hard enough, we would run and they would get away with it.

I hate how George Bush has prosecuted this war. I know I could do better. But I want every suicide bomber - from Bali to Baghdad - to understand one thing about a Kerry administration. You can blow yourselves up from now until next Ramadan, but we'll still be in Iraq. You'll be dead, but we'll still be there. Which part of that sentence don't you understand?

I don't say this to be macho man, Tim. I'm not George Bush. I say this because it's the best way to save American and Iraqi lives. You see, Tim, I identify strongly with my band of brothers and sisters wearing the American uniform in Iraq. The best way to endanger them is to suggest to the terrorists that there is daylight between me and President Bush - that if he won't run, I will. Well, there is no daylight on ends. A Kerry administration will see that Iraqis get every chance to produce their own representative government.

But there is daylight on means. You see, Tim, if I were president, I would insist that we have a real policy of energy conservation to enlist every American in this war, by asking each of us to choke off some of the funds going to the Islamist totalitarians. I would immediately invite the leaders of the United Nations, Germany, France and NATO to Camp David to rebuild the alliance that won the cold war, so we have the staying power to win this war of ideas in the Muslim world. And I would have my secretary of state out in the Middle East regularly, arguing our case, bolstering our allies and trying to bring about a secure peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

Oh yes, Tim, my means would be very different. Unlike the Bush team, I understand that if you have a hammer, that doesn't make every problem a nail. It takes more than force to win a war of ideas. But on ends, Tim, let no one have any illusions: a Kerry presidency will pay any price and bear any burden to try to build a decent Iraqi regime in the heart of the Arab world. My making that commitment now is the best way to prove to the terrorists that their actions are futile, and in that way save American and Iraqi lives. Failure to make that commitment would have horrific consequences for U.S. foreign policy.

Tim, I am no dreamer. I've seen a quagmire close up. We can't want a unified, decent Iraq more than the Iraqis themselves. Ultimately, they will have to step up and come together around a plan and a leader. But the terrorists should have no illusions, and the Iraqi people should have no fears: America under John Kerry will give them every chance to succeed. We will not run.