Jewish World Review March 11, 2004 / 18 Adar, 5764

Zev Chafets

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The runner stumbles | After his strong start, Kerry is making a lot of gaffes

John Kerry needs a week off. Maybe two. His voice is shot. His temper is short. And, after running an almost flawless primary campaign, he has started making beginner's mistakes.

His first gaffe came on Super Tuesday. Flush with victory, Kerry confided to a reporter for the American Urban Radio Network that he'd like to be known as the second black President (Bill Clinton being the first). Say what? The senator from Skull and Bones is a brother? Count on the GOP to have some fun with this at the expense of J-Ker.

Then on Monday, Kerry did it again. He bragged to a Fort Lauderdale audience that he is the favorite son of the international community. "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy.'"

Kerry's probably telling the truth. Anybody who has ever run for student council knows that people tend to say they're for you even if they aren't. And, of course, a lot of foreign leaders are rooting for Kerry. The question is: Why?

On Monday night, Richard Holbrooke, a Democratic foreign-policy spokesman, was challenged on CNN's Paula Zahn show to name Kerry's foreign supporters. He came up with one example: Turkey.

"When Bill Clinton left office, 65% of the Turkish people considered America their best friend," Holbrooke said. "Here is the strategic front-line state on Iraq's northern border. Today, the figure according to the latest polls is 15% or lower. There is an example of a place where our support has eroded when it is absolutely necessary."

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The erosion came, of course, as a result of Bush's Iraq policy. For years, Clinton dithered about Saddam Hussein's regime but did nothing to end it. Such passivity suited the Turks, who didn't much like Saddam but did like the status quo.

Then President Bush overthrew Saddam, demonstrating that Turkey's support was not "absolutely necessary" or, in fact, necessary at all.

The war exposed Turkey's phony "strategic" importance. It also angered local Islamic fascists who hate the American Satan, opened the painful topic of Turkey's oppressed Kurdish minority and deprived Turkey of the money it was making for helping Saddam evade economic sanctions. No wonder the Turks don't like Bush. No wonder they prefer Kerry.

There are other foreign leaders who also are hoping for a Democratic victory. President Jacques Chirac of France, obviously. Perhaps Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany (although he recently crawled to the White House for a presidential photo op). Certainly the dictators of the Islamic world are rooting for Kerry. So is Haiti's ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And, embarrassingly enough, the government of North Korea has made its preference clear.

On the other hand, Bush has his foreign friends. Tony Blair of Great Britain. The leaders of Australia, Spain, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Israel, India, Poland and Georgia. Canada's new prime minister, Paul Martin, has been courting the President. Mexico's President Vicente Fox is back on the ranch.

In fact, Kerry's Fort Lauderdale boast underlines a very uncomfortable political fact. Many of his secret admirers regard themselves as rivals or adversaries of the U.S., a point the Bush campaign has been trying to make for months.

The GOP also argues that Kerry wouldn't pursue and defend American interests without permission from the UN, the Arab League, Turkish public opinion and the editorial board of Le Monde. True or not, these perceptions are politically disastrous for the Democrats.

A rested Kerry would have known not to brag about his popularity with unnamed foreign leaders, just as he would have avoided nominating himself Soul Brother No. 2. He needs to take some time off and get a grip.

November is still eight months away.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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