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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Kerry makes his stand on Iraq
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

John Kerry has finally decided that the only way he can win the US presidential election is to come out against the war in Iraq.

A US tank in Iraq
Kerry has taken an anti-Iraq war stance to boost his campaign
His problems are that he voted for a resolution authorising war - and his solutions appear to be the ones President Bush is already trying to implement.

He has also rejected the advice of former President Bill Clinton that he should switch the main campaign theme to domestic issues.

It is a desperate throw because George W Bush did well at the Republican Convention by projecting himself as a strong war leader, like him or not.

Confused message

But desperate times for John Kerry require desperate remedies and he obviously feels that he has a chance to make his stand on Iraq.

Up until now, his message was as confused as his votes in the Senate were. He voted in favour of the Congressional resolution authorising war, then against the money to pay for it and reconstruction.

The president misled, miscalculated and mismanaged
John Kerry

He has tried to explain that the votes were conditional but it is likely that Congress knew exactly what it was voting for.

As part of his message, he presented himself as a combat veteran from the highly unpopular war in Vietnam, which he himself came to oppose.

It was designed to emphasise his credentials as a sure-footed and battle-hardened leader.

But again the message was mixed. He was in effect trying to redeem the Vietnam war and that looked strange if he was at the same time trying to appeal to the anti-Iraq war sentiment among American voters.

Recalling Vietnam

Now he is trying to tap into that underlying anti-war sentiment.

He is linking Vietnam and Iraq: "I saw firsthand what happens when pride or arrogance take over from rational decision-making," he now says.

John Kerry delivers an electoral speech at New York University
Kerry is now focusing on the Iraq conflict and its impact on the US
It might have been better to have come out against the Iraq war earlier, instead of trying to beat Mr Bush at his own game.

And he presents an easy target: President Bush immediately hit back, accusing Mr Kerry of again reversing his position.

"Last December he [Mr Kerry] said this, and I quote, 'those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein and those who believe we are not safer with his capture don't have the judgement to be president or the credibility to be elected president'".

"I could not have said it better," Mr Bush added.

Kerry's Iraq plan

As for the substance of what Mr Kerry proposed, there is nothing really new in it.

He has proposed a four-part plan for Iraq - rallying US allies to help more, training more Iraqi security forces, reconstructing Iraq and ensuring that elections are held next year.

US troops guard the wreckage of a Humvee that was destroyed in a suicide car bomb that exploded near Baghdad's International airport road, 12 September 2004
Kerry says US troops in Iraq may be home in four years
But America's allies are just not willing to help much, certainly not by sending troops. Mr Kerry is unlikely to change their minds.

Iraqi security forces are already being trained. Certainly this could be stepped up but it is a long process.

The reconstruction is planned but has faltered because of the lack of security. There is no magic wand.

Elections are already being organised for January. The plan is that the current unelected interim government will give way to a transitional government which will then have a constitution drawn up for full elections at the end of next year.

Mr Kerry's best ploy perhaps is saying that American troops could be home in four years, the length of the presidential term.

But that is a hope, not a promise.

So he is left with saying that he would not have gone into Iraq and with accusing Mr Bush of incompetence and worse. "The president misled, miscalculated and mismanaged," he said.

His campaign, it might be said, has started, but it has certainly not finished.

But at least it has started.

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