BY JOHN PODHORETZ New York Post
September 9, 2004 -- YESTERDAY John Kerry an nounced somberly that the nation had reached a "tragic milestone." He was referring to the thousandth American death in the Iraq war.
But he might well have been referring to the tragic milestone his own career reached when he ascended the podium yesterday in Cincinnati and, I believe, consigned his presidential hopes to the ash-heap of history.
For what Kerry did yesterday, in his most unambiguously anti-war speech yet, was to make an unintentional mockery of himself and his party. He has taken to calling the war in Iraq "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." But yesterday he boiled down his chief complaint against the war to an astonishingly crass level.
While paying the necessary obeisances to the sacrifices of our troops in Iraq, he quickly moved on to complain that the key problem with the cause for which they have been making these sacrifices is just too damn expensive. The $200 billion price tag, he complained, "is $200 billion that we're not investing in education, health care and job creation here at home."
You see, we could have lots of after-school programs and lots of other nice stuff if it weren't for Iraq!
"$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children," he said. "$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans."
There is so much wrong with this argument that it's hard to know where to begin. There's the simple matter of Kerry's bald-faced falsity. First of all, the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act has increased by 65 percent the amount of federal money spent on schooling. Spending on veterans' health care has grown a whopping 27 percent.
Bush has spent freely, far too freely in the eyes of most of those who obsess about fiscal responsibility. But even engaging in this kind of discussion brings the issue down to Kerry's astoundingly crass level.
If Kerry wants to argue that we should never have gone to war, for whatever reason he may choose — the failure to find Saddam's WMDs, the unforeseen difficulties after the end of major combat operations, the putative recruitment of more terrorists, the tragic death toll — fine.
These are serious issues, and a serious policy discussion could ensue from a Kerry speech that raised them.<> But he doesn't want to talk about serious issues, because his effort to have it every-which-way on all these matters as he bobbed and weaved his way into his party's nomination has caused him to take (by one count) eight different positions on the war so far. >
So now it comes down to this: The war has cost too much. And why?
Kerry offers two arguments. One is debatable. One is contemptible.
The debatable argument is that the Bush administration didn't properly plan for the insurgency that followed the ouster of the Hussein regime. Bush has now acknowledged as much by discussing the "miscalculation" that occurred because no one expected the initial combat to end so quickly.
The problem for Kerry is that if he makes this debatable argument, he is forced to attack Bush from the right. To argue that Bush didn't take the insurgency seriously enough forces Kerry to argue that there needed to be more troops and that, right now, we need to finish the job in Fallujah and Najaf.
And right now, Kerry can't attack Bush from the right. Because of his incompetent conduct in the aftermath of the Democratic Convention, Kerry is facing an increasingly disgruntled and impatient Democratic base. The base is 90 percent anti-war. If he gets on their bad side, they might give up on him or even vote Nader.
That's why he prefers the contemptible argument.
Yesterday, he said that the war cost too much because George W. Bush didn't get allies who were willing to pay for it. "America has paid nearly 90 percent of the bill in Iraq," he said. "Contrast that with the Gulf War, where our allies paid 95 percent of the costs."
Well, the Gulf War cost $61 billion back in 1991, and most of it was paid for by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Does John Kerry really think we should be going to the Saudis today for money to pay for U.S. operations in Iraq? Does Kerry actually think anyone will believe that his supposed friends in Germany and France would have given him money to pay for a war against Saddam Hussein?
Americans with grave concerns about Iraq actually deserve a better advocate than Kerry, who wants to reduce those concerns to a false monetary calculation. This is a serious country, and Iraq is a serious business. Barring some event out of Kerry's or Bush's control, this unserious man from Massachusetts will not become our president.