Stung by criticism that his campaign lacks direction and focus, Sen. John Kerry has chosen to base his candidacy on an all-out assault on President Bush's record in Iraq – indeed, opted to move to the left decisively and attack the war head-on.
Liberals will cheer Kerry's new-found decisiveness, but it opens the way for Bush to deal him a counter-stroke that can all but end this election and finish off Kerry for good.
Kerry's right flank is now gapingly vulnerable to a Bush attack. According to Scott Rasmussen's tracking polls, 30 to 40 percent of Kerry's voters disagree with his new leftward tilt on Iraq.
That is, even as the Democrat condemned the war in Iraq as a "diversion" from the central mission of the war on terror, a large minority of his own voters disagrees and sees it as "integral" to the battle to respond to 9/11.
Kerry has moved to the left, leaving about one-third of his vote behind. Bush can now move in and peel off Kerry's moderate supporters.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has opened the door for this new Bush offensive by declaring the invasion of Iraq "illegal" and equating the deadly terror raids by Iraqi guerillas with the embarrassing but hardly lethal sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. military. With those incendiary claims put into play, it is now legitimate for Bush to attack the secretary-general and ask his opponent to take a stand for or against Annan's remarks.
In his current incarnation as a dove, Kerry dares not dissent too sharply from the views of the United Nations leader. Bush can develop a key campaign issue over whether it is legal for the United States to act in its own self-defense without obtaining Security Council approval. Ratification by an assemblage of nations bribed through the Oil-for-Food program should not be a prerequisite for American action.
The backdrop of this new emphasis on Iraq is Bush's largely successful effort to appeal to women in his battle against terror. After misdirecting his rhetoric for months, echoing a macho tough guy approach, the president found his stride at the GOP Convention and, with the able assistance of his wife, portrayed the war in Iraq and the global battle against terror as an effort to keep American families safe at home.
John Kerry has zigged when he should have zagged. He has chosen to fight over terror and Iraq when he should have stayed on domestic issues. He has tacked left when he should have stayed in the center on foreign issues and attacked on matters closer to home.
Kerry has defined himself as a liberal – and will pay for it with his defeat.
E-mail Dick Morris at email@example.com