Flanking Bush on the War?

We’ve been saying for a long time that there is plenty of room to get to the administration’s right on the war against terror; the question is whether the Democrats can credibly occupy that ground. Over the last few days, John Kerry has shown signs that he may intend to flank President Bush on the right.
First he said that he wants to send another 40,000 soldiers to Iraq (“Bring the troops home! Re-elect President Bush!”). Then he gave a speech to the effect that nuclear terrorism is the greatest threat now facing America. That’s true, of course, but how do we square Kerry’s newfound concern about terrorism with his pronouncement, just a few months ago, that the threat of terrorism is “exaggerated”?
Does Kerry seriously intend to convince voters that he intends to prosecute the war against terror, including the war in Iraq, more vigorously that President Bush? I doubt it. My guess is that his objective is twofold. First, he thinks he may be able to attract a few swing voters who don’t pay much attention, while at the same time keeping his Democratic base in line with a wink and a nod. Second, perhaps more important, I suspect that he wants to position himself to take advantage of a possible terrorist attack next fall.
It seems extremely likely that al Qaeda will pull out all the stops to try to influence the November election, given the success the organization had in Spain. There has been much speculation about the political effect of a terrorist attack in this country. Many people argue (and I agree) that such an attack would be likely to help President Bush by focusing voters’ attention on terrorism as a critical threat. But that’s true only as long as the Democrats are seen as soft on terror, at least compared to the Bush administration. If the Democratic nominee talks tough on terror between now and November, he may be positioned to blame the terrorist attack, if it succeeds, on President Bush–or have his surrogates in the press cast such blame–and in the wake of an attack, enough voters may be jittery to swing the election to Kerry.
That, at least, is what I suspect Kerry and his advisers are thinking.


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