CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published July 25, 2003, issue of July 25, 2003.
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Fierce Words: President Bush lied in making the case for the war in Iraq, and in at least one respect the situation there resembles Vietnam, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry suggested to reporters Monday.

The Democratic presidential candidate, who spoke to the press in a conference call, said the president has “a clear credibility gap with respect to obvious statements” he had made about Iraq, including claims about Iraq’s nuclear program and weapons capabilities.

Kerry said “false pride” and “hubris” were preventing Bush from going to the United Nations and NATO for help in sharing the burdens of the Iraq occupation, and he said the administration’s unilateralism was costing American lives. The senator, a decorated Vietnam veteran, drew a parallel between Bush’s “sense of humiliation” and the policy that he said had led to mounting deaths in Vietnam, saying, “Half the Vietnam Wall dates from the time that that kind of pride began to cloud the decisions” in the war in Indochina.

The call was the second time in less than a week that Kerry accused Bush of lying and needlessly endangering Americans in uniform. In a speech in the Bronx last Wednesday, Kerry twice demanded that Bush “face the truth and tell the truth” about America’s security situation.

“Americans should be able to trust that what the president tells them is true,” Kerry said in the Bronx, adding that Bush’s State of the Union message had “trafficked in an untruth at a time when at least some in the administration knew it was wrong.” He was referring to the administration’s claim that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in Africa.

He also implicitly drew the Vietnam parallel, saying, “I know what it means when the American people lose faith in their government — what it means to our national spirit, what it means to our national security, what it means to our troops who are in harm’s way.”

In the Bronx speech, the candidate described what he called the “preparedness gap…. the huge difference between where America needs to be to combat terrorist attacks… and the reality which local firefighters, police officers and frontline defenders are living with on the ground.” Echoing the language of a Senate report, he said the president had allowed those departments to be “drastically underfunded and dangerously unprepared” to meet any terror emergency.

“We don’t send soldiers to war without the equipment and weapons to keep them safe and win the battle,” he said. “And we shouldn’t do any less for the men and women who wear a different uniform as foot soldiers of the war on terrorism here at home.”

While Republicans were quick to accuse Kerry of politicking on the back of the Iraq hostilities, Democratic strategists advising the Kerry campaign said that Kerry was merely reacting to events and questions in the press.

“In presidential politics, the reality counts, and the reality is not particularly good for George Bush at home or abroad right now,” Kerry pollster Mark Mellman told the Forward.

“What’s hurting Bush is the reality of the situation on the ground in Iraq is not good,” Mellman said. “The reality is that there appears to have been misrepresentation of intelligence data at home. Those realities are hurting Bush significantly.”

He added, “His numbers are coming down farther and faster than his father’s did after the Gulf War and his after Afghanistan.”

Kerry foreign policy adviser Will Marshall said Bush’s lack of a plan for securing the peace and “cavalier” way with the facts are “fair game for Democrats.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “spoke for lots of people when he focused on the big threat Saddam did pose to the liberal order and to our allies,” Marshall said, adding that he doesn’t see “Blair Democrats” who supported the Iraq war, such as Kerry, weakening on that point.

“The real danger for the Bush White House is the continuing guerrilla warfare,” Marshall said, and “that our troops are bearing the brunt of this pacification. We are getting help, but we’re not getting enough of it, and it’s not getting there fast enough.”

Marshall said the sharpness of Democratic rhetoric shows that “the battle is now pitched to Democratic activists,” who want the candidates “to take it to Bush.”

Kerry is not alone in his policy prescriptions: Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, former Vermont governor Howard Dean and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt have all called for internationalizing the peacekeeping in Iraq in recent weeks.

* * *

Their Guy: Jewish Republicans are pointing to the pro-Israel credentials of President Bush’s new deputy press secretary, Dan Senor, as evidence that Jewish concerns are being noted regarding that position now that Ari Fleischer has left his post as press secretary. Senor got his start in politics in 1993 as an intern at the lobbying powerhouse the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Whether I was learning the ins and outs of Washington with my fellow interns or attending briefings on Capitol Hill, my internship at Aipac prepared me for my work in politics,” Aipac’s Web site quotes Senor as saying. More recently, Senor served as deputy press secretary for the top American administrator in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer.

* * *

Terminating Davis: Jewish Republicans in California are divided over which proposed candidate to support as a replacement of Democratic Governor Gray Davis on any recall ballot. “Most Jewish Republicans are very moderate,” Bruce Bialosky, the chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Southern California region, told the Forward. Given that profile, Bialosky said, some are attracted to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a social moderate, but “others are going to support” a more conservative Republican, Bill Simon, whom Davis defeated last fall, and still others are likely to fall behind State Senator Tom McClintock or even Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego. Bialosky said that his group doesn’t endorse candidates in contested primaries, so he’s officially neutral.

In other recall news, the press conference with Los Angeles Jewish community leaders that the pro-Davis forces had scheduled for earlier in the month was finally held Monday. Communal leaders and Democrats pitched the conference as a way to thank Davis for promoting tolerance.

“Gray Davis is a fighter. He fights beside us as we work to end intolerance and promote understanding,” said a former congressman, Mel Levine, at the gathering. “Today, we pledge to fight for him and together, we will defeat this cynical attempt to thwart the will of millions of Californians.”






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