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Kerry Leads Bush on Domestic Vision, Not Foreign Policy

As President Bush executes what aides call “the pivot” to his second-term agenda, he faces a high standard — on “vision” and domestic policy, at least — that was set in Boston by his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.). [IMGCAP(1)]

Kerry’s acceptance speech in Boston was an eloquent, if rushed, evocation of themes often expressed by Republicans: patriotism, faith, national unity and the notion that Americans, individually and collectively, can “do better.”

As he outlined in the speech, the Democratic candidate has a clear and comprehensive domestic agenda — even if there are legitimate questions about whether it’s feasible — whereas Bush only began to lay out his on Friday.

But Kerry’s speech was less than convincing in the one area where he needed to be most persuasive: foreign policy.

Even if he was a war hero 30 years ago as commander of a Vietnam swift boat, he still does not sound like a forceful commander in chief today, let alone a “war president.”

Practically every assertion Kerry made about foreign policy was in the negative. “I will never mislead us into war,” he said. “The United States will never go to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to.”

His message to the armed forces will be: “You will never have be asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace.” He said, “I will never hesitate to use force when it is required,” but he said it would only be when the United States faces a threat that is “real and imminent” or when the United States is actually attacked.

Unanswered in the speech were: What exactly is his “plan to win the peace” in Iraq except “to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the risk to American soldiers … get the job done and bring our troops home?”

Kerry’s clear post-Vietnam reluctance to use force unless absolutely necessary could well give comfort to rogue nations like Iran and North Korea, who now know in advance that he wouldn’t threaten them unless he had first formed a broad international coalition to help.

He claimed, in another negative, “I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security,” but he’d obviously try, tirelessly, to woo France and the United Nations to support anything he did.

One of Kerry’s strong themes is that he means to make America “respected in the world” again. Yet Kerry’s main ingredient for “respect” seems to be “to make the U.S. “looked up to, and not just feared.” The question is: Would he make America “feared” at all?

Kerry never mentioned Iran, a key adversary in the war on terrorism that’s also working on nuclear weapons and attempting to undermine U.S. policy in Iraq.

At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Kerry’s top foreign policy adviser, Rand Beers, said that Kerry’s policy is to “talk to” Iran’s leaders and “coordinate policy with France, Germany and Britain” — nations which, so far, have utterly failed to induce the mullahs to cooperate.

Rhetorically, Kerry’s vice presidential running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), was far more forceful in his approach to the war on terror in his convention speech Wednesday. Edwards, almost sounding like Bush, taunted al Qaeda, declaring “You can’t run. You can’t hide. We will destroy you.” Edwards also said — to no applause whatsoever from the convention floor — “we will win the war in Iraq.”

Kerry sounded much less commanding. “We need a strong military and we need to lead strong alliances,” he said. “And then, with confidence and determination, we will be able to tell the terrorists: You will lose and we will win.”

The Bush campaign, in addition to unveiling the president’s new agenda before and at the GOP convention in New York, will continue pounding at weaknesses in Kerry’s record, especially on foreign policy.

In Boston, the Republican National Committee released a devastating video containing TV clips of Kerry sometimes making hawkish statements about the menace of Iraq and at other times — especially under primary pressure from Howard Dean — agreeing that he was “anti-war.”

One clip from a 2001 appearance on “Larry King Live” shows Kerry saying, “I think we clearly have to keep the pressure on terrorism globally. … It’s absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, Saddam Hussein.”

He said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in September 2002 that Hussein “might even miscalculate and slide these weapons [of mass destruction] off to a terrorist group and invite them to be a surrogate to use them against the United States.”

After Kerry voted to give President Bush authority to wage war against Hussein and said that he supported the idea of “regime change” in Iraq, Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “the resolution we passed did not empower the president to do regime change.”

In the most devastating piece of tape of all, Kerry was asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sept. 14, 2003, whether he would vote for or against Bush’s request for $87 billion to support U.S. troops and Iraqi reconstruction.

He said, “I don’t think any United States Senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running. That’s irresponsible. … I don’t think anyone in the Congress is going to not give our troops ammunition. … We’re not going to cut and run and not do the job.”

As the RNC tape reminds, on Oct. 17, Kerry was one of 12 Senators to vote “Nay” on the $87 billion. Edwards voted the same way.

Bush aides promise that this piece of video will be part of their ads this fall. It won’t substitute for a convincing Bush vision for the future and policies to match, but it should — Vietnam medals notwithstanding — raise doubts about Kerry’s leadership.

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