HOW HE SEES IT Kerry's plan for Iraq full of contradictions

You say you've been following the presidential campaign and are very interested in the candidates' positions on Iraq. Okay, then, answer me this: Which of the following statements did John Kerry make about bringing American troops home if he's elected?
A) He sees a big withdrawal in his first term.
B) He sees a big withdrawal in his first year.
C) He sees a big withdrawal in his first six months.
D) All of the above.
The answer is D -- and now you know the problem in trying to figure out where the Democrat stands. Kerry made all those statements in the last two weeks in different interviews and news conferences.
Forget red and blue states -- color me confused.
Kerry's Iraq position also morphed in another important way. Initially, he called a first-term reduction a "plan." By the end of the dizzying descriptions, the six-month withdrawal had become "a goal."
The one consistency was his caveat that any changes on American strength mostly depended on getting allies to pony up forces.
Hey, wait a minute. That basically means none of the reductions would happen unless France, et al., agree to send troops. Fat chance of that happening.
All of which leaves Kerry's plan full of conditional holes, and thus no real plan at all.
Maybe it's Kerry who is confused about Iraq. In theory, you can't blame him. "Between Iraq and a hard place" aptly describes the American dilemma. Lots of the candidate's fellow countrymen are confused, too.
But Kerry is running for president. And when your party says you're the man, you are required to have more answers than the average Joe.
Kerry offered another Iraq answer last week, but it only further muddied the waters. Taunted by President Bush about whether he would still vote for the war authorization knowing what he knows now about weapons of mass destruction, Kerry said yes.
Bet your bottom dollar Bush was as shocked as millions of Kerry's supporters. Only Bush was smiling shocked -- he basically got Kerry to endorse the invasion again -- while the anti-war crowd that makes up a huge chunk of the Democratic establishment couldn't be happy.
Remember that 80 percent of the delegates at the Boston convention said the war was a mistake. And now their candidate seemed to be saying something else entirely.
Kerry's war room was quick to try to explain the nuances -- Kerry felt Bush had no plan for winning the peace -- but the damage was done. By week's end, even Kerry aides were admitting he had walked right into a clever Bush trap.
Scoring points
And the Bushies weren't done scoring points. The president, whose meanings are clear even when his syntax isn't, seized on Kerry's timetables to say, rightly, that any talk of withdrawal would undercut efforts to stabilize Iraq.
Vice President Cheney seized on another strange Kerry comment -- that he would run a "more sensitive" war on terror. That was like lobbing a big fat softball right down the middle, and Cheney clubbed it with a mocking tone. A "sensitive war," he said, was not the right response to the thugs who killed 3,000 Americans. Pow.
Kerry's missteps made for a bizarre week, but it's only August. And many polls, such as one showing him up by 7 points in Florida, suggest the election is his to lose.
But Vince Lombardi was talking about football, not the Oval Office, when he said winning is everything. In political terms, a Kerry victory based mostly on anger at Bush would not prepare the country for the difficult choices ahead.
That means Kerry better get a grip on himself now and decide where he truly stands on Iraq and the war on terror. For soon enough, confusion will be unforgivable.
X Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News.

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