"Tim, that is the dilemma," Kerry said. "That is exactly the quandary that President Bush and this administration have put the United States of America in." And it's a quandary for Kerry. He cannot promise to withdraw U.S. troops. That could certainly leave Iraq in a worse position and perhaps lead to a failed state that would be of use to anti-American terrorists. (Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.) He can try to be more effective than Bush in bringing in other nations. But he cannot claim other countries will definitely respond to his offer of powersharing. And it could be more difficult for a multilateral force to suppress the insurgency.
Bush has left himself and any successor with few, if any, good options. After all, some problems have no solutions. There was no plan for closing Pandora’s box. What Kerry has to offer voters is that he is not Bush. Bob Woodward’s new book, Plan of Attack, makes this obvious. Woodward depicts Bush as a fellow who dismisses critical discourse and who traffics in simplistic judgments. When Woodward asked Bush about public concern over the MIA WMDs, Bush scornfully replied, “You travel in elite circles.” Huh? Bush made false assertions about the fundamental reason for war, and then he pooh-poohed complaints as nothing more than the gripes of the Georgetown dinner-party set. This is not a fellow in touch with the world beyond his blinders.
Of the many tasks Kerry has to perform as a candidate — including coming across as authentic, likable and honest — he will have to define the race not as a contest between plans, but between men. The issue has to be, Who is better able to deal with the mess that Bush created and with the unforeseen challenges that will ensue? And if Kerry succeeds, he’d better prepare himself for looking into the mirror and asking, What do I do now? A victory will not ensure a happy ending.