As Senator John Kerry has intensified his criticism of President George W. Bush's Iraq policy in recent days, conservative media have reliably echoed Bush-Cheney '04 distortions of what Kerry said, labeling Kerry a "pessimist" who advocates "retreat and defeat."
As Media Matters for America has noted, conservative columnists David Brooks and Frank J. Gaffney Jr. echoed these distortions of Kerry's September 20 speech, claiming falsely that Kerry seeks a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. In fact, Kerry explicitly predicated troop withdrawal on increased international involvement:
If the president would move in this direction ... if he would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces ... train the Iraqis to provide their own security ... develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people ... and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year ... we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years.
In a September 20 press release, Bush-Cheney '04 spokesman Steve Schmidt said, "John Kerry's latest position on Iraq is to advocate retreat and defeat in the face of terror." In a September 18 press release, Bush-Cheney '04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman said, "Since John Kerry first called our allies 'window dressing,' he has been pushing his pessimistic view of progress in the War on Terror." He concluded, "John Kerry's pessimism, shifting positions and lack of resolve will not win the fight against the terrorists."
In the days following Kerry's speech, conservatives in the media repeated these distortions of Kerry's position:
- Rush Limbaugh, radio host: "The public doesn't want to cast a vote for a man running for president who seems to be longing for us to fail. Americans do not want to cast a vote for a man [Kerry] who is assuring us that we're screwing up and that we're going to lose. There are some wackos in his party that may support this, but it's not a majority of Americans and it never has been." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/23]
- William Kristol, Weekly Standard executive editor: "Kerry says in his speech that he would start the withdrawal of U.S. forces next summer, and would seek to complete it in four years. But would he even wait four years before completing a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? However long it actually took, a President Kerry would make getting out of Iraq his top priority, thus handing a victory to the terrorists in what Prime Minister Blair called Sunday 'the crucible in which the future of global terrorism will be determined.'" [Column, The Weekly Standard's online Daily Standard, 9/20]
- Dick Morris, political strategist: "[U]ltimately, a race for president in -- people look at events as symbolic speech about character and persona. They don't care what your position is on these issues. They care what your position reflects of what kind of guy you are. ... And they think Kerry is a dour, sour, pessimistic, negative guy." [FOX News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor, 9/23]
- The Washington Times: "Worse, his heart just doesn't seem to be in a stubborn fight for victory. John Forbes Kerry seems increasingly like a modern-day version of the defeatist, enervated men of the failed League of Nations." [Editorial, 9/24]
- New York Post: "Kerry seems to think America has already lost the war in Iraq. And maybe the War on Terror, too.
"If the terrorists were listening, they must have reached a similar conclusion: that they have made great strides in overwhelming the infidel, that America is growing wobbly and that, with perhaps a few more months of sustained violence in Iraq, Kerry will become president -- and America will flee." [Editorial, 9/21]
- Amir Taheri, New York Post columnist: "Kerry's exit strategy, on the other hand, reflects his belief that Iraq is another Vietnam. He is not proposing a 'last chopper from Saigon' strategy; that would not look good on TV. Rather, his strategy could be described as 'cut and whistle your way out.
"A new version of 'cut and run' in Iraq could embolden the forces of Islamofascism whose strategic aim is the destruction of the West and its current standard-bearer, the United States." ["Kerry's Answer: Cut and Run," 9/24]
- Morton M. Kondracke, Roll Call executive editor and FOX News Channel contributor: "I would guess that he [Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi] thinks that if Kerry gets elected, his chances of surviving and Iraq surviving as a democracy, are less than when Bush was there.
"I just don't think that pessimism works, especially when American troops are under fire. And you know, he may be saying the truth as he -- as he witnesses it in the reports and stuff like that, increased casualty rates, lots more attacks. But the question is, you know, is one of perseverance.
"I mean, Kerry has suddenly used the word 'victory.' He didn't use it in his big speech last week at New York University. But the question is, what does he mean by 'victory'? And you know, is it a George Aiken kind of victory, where you -- referring to the senator back in 1966 who said, you know, about Vietnam just declare victory and get out whether we were victorious or not? I mean, you have the feeling that with Kerry he would try to get an election and then hand it over to the Iraqis, and withdraw whether we were ready to withdraw or not." [FOX News Channel, Special Report with Brit Hume, 9/23]
- Bill Sammon, Washington Times senior White House correspondent and FOX News Channel political analyst: "It's one thing to be Pollyanna-ish ... it's another thing to be simply optimistic and hopeful, which I think Allawi and Bush were this week. And then Kerry comes off looking pessimistic by saying, 'No, it's all gloom and doom over there.' That doesn't play well." [FOX Broadcasting Company, FOX News Sunday, 9/26]