President Bush stated the obvious this week by saying the war against terrorists could never really be won, as in a traditional war. Rather, he explained that the US can "create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world." Still, this concept of victory by slow ostracism of the enemy was portrayed in the media as "Bush says war not winnable." It was then quickly used by the Kerry campaign to imply Bush lacks "steady leadership." To be fair, the Bush campaign has made similar distortions of John Kerry's comments about Iraq and the war on terrorism. The larger point is that presidential campaigns during wartime run the risk of candidates jumping on an opponent's comments for immediate political gain only to then inadvertently embrace a policy that they, as president, might later regret, informs the Christian Science Monitor By knocking the "can't win" statement of President Bush, for instance, has John Kerry backed himself into an unreasonable policy of what "winning" the war would look like? As president, would he feel obligated to kill or capture every known terrorist, or try to achieve a surrender ceremony with Al Qaeda? According to TIME, For now the pendulum has swung toward Bush's argument. Kerry had a unified convention in Boston, and though the sharply divided nature of the electorate prevented him from getting an immediate bounce, he established enough credibility with voters to pick up 2-3 points in many key battleground states. But the last two weeks have seen that advantage fade. And the hoopla over the Swift Boat Veterans' ads is not completely responsible. Kerry did not build on his convention message. He failed to articulate a detailed vision of what his wiser war on terrorism would mean. It's not enough for Kerry to say he could fight a better war if he doesn't explain how in a compelling, ambitious plan. Now it's Bush's turn. Monday night set the tone as the Republicans in Madison Square Garden looked back to September 11th, remembering when Bush stood in the World Trade Center rubble three days later and pledged that the terrorists would hear from the United States. In the evening's main speeches both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain re-linked the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq as the same conflict and argued that Bush had to invade Iraq to undercut a key pillar of support for global terrorism. Giuliani was merciless in painting Kerry as a flip-flopper on Iraq and suggested that if Kerry were in office, he would attempt to appease Europe and the terrorists. The delegates in the hall agreed wholeheartedly, of course. But the Republicans are trying to reach swing voters, and their message is that even if voters aren't sure Bush's decision to go to Iraq was the right one, it is better to be aggressive and suffer casualties in Iraq than here at home.
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