May 1, 2004

Kerry on the humiliation of Iraqi detainees. News of the humiliation of Iraqi detainees has brought great sorrow and outrage and demands for harsh punishment. Instapundit collects reactions to the news, all compelling, and writes: "[I]t should be dealt with very, very harshly. But those who would -- as Senator Kerry did after Vietnam -- make such behavior emblematic of our effort, instead of recognizing it as an abandonment of our principles -- are mere opportunists." But what is Kerry's response to the news from Iraq? The NYT prints Kerry's written response:
"I am disturbed and troubled by the evidence of shameful mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. We must learn the facts and take the appropriate action. ... As Americans, we must stand tall for the rule of law and freedom everywhere. But we cannot let the actions of a few overshadow the tremendous good work that thousands of soldiers are doing every day in Iraq and all over the world."

Kerry may choose to do something more with this issue later, but as it stands this reads to me as complete forbearance from opportunism. I want Kerry to demonstrate that he would never allow his political ambition to override the interest in the successful completion of our efforts in Iraq, and I have worried that he would pursue the strategy of uniting Bush and the war in the public's mind, creating a single entity (BushWar), and then use every opportunity to find fault with something done in the war to attack BushWar. What a disaster that would be.

Perhaps Kerry's statement only represents the astute political understanding that he needs to avoid appearing not to support our soldiers--especially important for him because of his Vietnam era statements--but I hope there is something more to this restraint, that there is a real commitment to the success of the mission. He is in a tough position here. Should he criticize Bush for not acting swiftly and harshly against the accused soldiers? For now he's chosen to refer to gathering the facts and providing "appropriate" process to the accused soldiers and preserving the rule of law. That may be too tame, part of his characteristic dullness, but it may be the surface of what is a competent commitment to the success of the war effort.

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