Where is John Kerry?


Three decades ago, it was John Kerry, the decorated Vietnam Vet, who dramatically asked a timid Congress who should be the last young soldier to die for a war that was already lost?

It was an excellent question, then.

It is an excellent question now, too, and Kerry should be asking it again. But this is healthcare issues week on the Kerry campaign schedule.

If Kerry loses this election to George Bush, we’ll be able to trace the loss back to this week, when he missed a unique chance to turn an uncertain and troubled public around on the war.

Instead of taking a leadership position and declaring the war a lost cause, as he did in younger days, Kerry has simply called for the firing of our Secretary of War (let’s do away with that Secretary of Defense nonsense) Donald RumsfeldÐa move that even many Republicans probably would endorse. Note that in calling for Rumsfeld’s head, Kerry is in effect exonerating the president of guilt in the torture scandal, by implying that Rumsfeld is guilty of poorly serving his boss.

He should be calling for the president’s resignation or impeachment, for authorizing the establishment of a torture center in Saddam Hussein’s old house of horrors in the first placeÐprobably one of the dumber things that the Bush administration and its foolish viceroy L. Paul Bremer III did in the course of their one year rule of terror in Iraq.

Kerry has been stumbling over the Iraq War issue now for over a year. Unable to explain his cowardly and stupid vote in favor of an invasion of Iraq back in the fall of 2002, the presumptive Democratic nominee has instead called for yet more troops to be sent there. Unable to call for an end of the war for fear of being called soft on defense, he has been reduced to claiming he could do a better job of fighting it.

The torture scandal, which has scuttled any chance the U.S. had of winning that war (if there ever was one), or even of emerging from it with a relatively pro-U.S. government in place in Baghdad, gives Kerry one brief window of opportunity to correct his mistakes. He could now plausibly say that while the war might once have been won, and democracy brought to Iraq, the ideologues and fanatics in the Bush White House had sabatoged that chance. He could say that by acting like a conquering empire, by taking shortcuts, by deliberately encouraging soldiers and intellilgence agents to ignore and violate international rule of law on the handling of prisoners, and by needlessly alienating average Iraqis, Bush and his national security team had blown it.

He could now say that the war has been lost through hubris and incompetence, and that it’s time to call it quits, cut our losses, and bring the troops home.

If Kerry were to do this, he would be a hero again. Even people who might disagree with him would have to respect his courage and conviction. And people who already planned on voting for him would be energized to go out and get others to vote for him too.

Then he could go back to talking about health care or the environment, and people might even pay attention, might think he actually had something bold and new to offer.

As it is, the Kerry campaign is coasting to disaster. The torture scandal has become the main event. The war is at a turning point, and Kerry is AWOL.

He isn’t even able to get on page one.

And rightly so. What news value is there to yet another cobbled together plan to 3reform2 the American medical system? Everyone knows that these plans are just campaign blather, forgotten the moment the ballots have been counted.

If he wants to get back on page one, Kerry should take a page from the Spanish left and say that his first act on taking office next January would be to order the troops home, and that his second act would be to take the money budgeted for the war and, after setting aside half of it for Iraq aid and reparations, spend the rest on all the badly needed social programs he earlier had said he wouldn’t have enough money to fund.

Sadly, it’s not going to happen though. The script calls for Kerry to be talking about education next week, or was it transportation?

Dave Lindorff is completing a book of Counterpunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press.


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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