Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2004 / 29 Tishrei, 5765

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Kerry's scary on terrorism: Unchanged by 9/11, he says, and no real ideas about what to do | In recent weeks, I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, John Kerry was waking up to the need to be ruthless on terrorism. He talked increasingly tough, saying in the second debate, "I will not stop in our effort to hunt down and kill the terrorists."

Boy, do I feel stupid. Comes now startling evidence that Kerry doesn't have a plan, or even much of a thought, about the greatest problem in the world today.

During long interviews on the subject with The New York Times Magazine, Kerry seemed to play down terrorism. He even made the shocking claim that 9/11 "didn't change me much at all."

That's one dumb thought a wanna-be commander-in-chief ought to keep to himself.

The article is a devastating portrait of the candidate as an empty suit. In it, Kerry doesn't have much to say about terrorism, nor does he seem even to think much about it.

The article has received lots of attention because Team Bush's Gotcha Gang jumped on this Kerry remark: "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they're a nuisance. As a former law enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling."

The Bushies put out a TV ad saying the remark shows Kerry doesn't understand terror. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and surrogates like Rudy Giuliani cited the quote as proof Kerry lacks resolve.

The Bushies are only half-right. It's not what Kerry said that's the problem. It's what he didn't say that is truly frightening.

The author, Matt Bai, struggles mightily to divine just what the Democrat thinks and would do were he elected. Alas, he struggles in vain. Over three interviews, Kerry offers nothing more meaty than his standard stump speech - he would be more "effective" than Bush.

"He told me he would wage a more 'effective' war on terror no less than 18 times in two hours," Bai writes. "The question, of course, was how."

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Bai's answer: "He would begin, if sworn into office, by going immediately to the United Nations to deliver a speech recasting American foreign policy."

That wouldn't help on Iraq, since most of our "allies" were reaping the benefits of billions in bribes and secret trade with Saddam Hussein.

But Bai plunges on. After interviewing Kerry's friends and aides, he comes away with a sketchy vision of a Kerry presidency that starts and ends with a dedication to diplomacy. The rest is the author's attempt to fashion a comprehensive Kerry Doctrine - even though he concedes Kerry has not offered one.

"One can infer ...," Bai writes in a typical passage in which he tries to make a cloth out of loose threads, "that if Kerry were able to speak less guardedly, in a less treacherous atmosphere than a political campaign, he might say, as some of his advisers do, that we are not in an actual war on terror."

Right - no war. Try selling that to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is scary stuff. And for those who read all the way to the end, the author suggests he recognizes the vacuum he has glimpsed.

"I came to understand ... the attacks really had not changed the way Kerry viewed or talked about terrorism," Bai writes.

His verdict is that Kerry's "vision might have seemed more satisfying - and would have been easier to talk about in a political campaign - in a world where the twin towers still stood."

I take that to mean Kerry might have been a good President before Sept. 11, 2001. Sounds right to me.

Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News Comment by clicking here.


10/05/04: The Big Mo still looking for its lover
09/28/04: What we're up against: The war on terror & the war in Iraq are now one and the same
09/14/04: Media bias is doing nation a disservice
08/18/04: Kerry confusion will soon be unforgivable
07/29/04: Why are the wackadoos still dear to Dems' hearts?
07/21/04: Kerry couldn't say no: Hillary waffle was just part of a wimpy week

© 2004, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.