The question everyone seems to be asking these days is what John Kerry would do in Iraq, if elected. How would he prevent the country from imploding? How would he get us out of this mess? Thus far, Kerry's "plan" for Iraq—asking our European allies to help us out, speeding up training of Iraqi forces, relying less on American contractors—has garnered a tepid response. Critics have been quick to note that Kerry has basically promised to do more or less what the Bush administration is already doing, only somehow to do it better. As Tony Karon, a columnist for Time, recently wrote, "It's hard to disagree with Vice President Cheney's sneer that Kerry and Edwards have simply packaged the administration's current efforts as their own plan."Update: Many, many thanks to Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias for linking. Matt brings up a great point I didn't really address: What if the new government asks the U.S. to leave? (Although, to be honest, I actually did decide to address that point before I decided to cut it. Heh.) My half-informed guess is that: a) it's highly unlikely that a new government would feel confident enough about Iraq's security to ask the U.S. to leave. This is especially true if members of parties forming the interim government win a decent plurality in the January elections. And b) by stressing he has no long-term designs on Iraq, Kerry might be able to convince a Shiite-dominated government to let the U.S. remain, albeit in a role geared more towards mediating inter-Iraqi conflict. This is also true if Kerry can convince Tehran to cooperate in stabilizing Iraq. But obviously I don't know for sure, and if the Iraqi government asked Kerry to pull out, that could be bad, especially if the central government doesn't have the resources to defend itself against whatever insurgency continues to flourish.
That isn't quite fair. True, there are few good options left in Iraq, and a Kerry approach isn't likely to differ all that drastically from the current one. And true, Kerry's one supposed trump card—bringing in allied troops—isn't likely to happen. But the options available to a Kerry administration would go far beyond merely cozying up to France and Germany. From negotiating security deals with Iraq's neighbors to shaking up the reconstruction process, Kerry would find himself in a position to do a few things that the Bush administration hasn't done. It won't be easy, and there's certainly a chance that he could fail. But Kerry has a shot at fixing Iraq, and it's is time to take a look at what a Kerry plan would really entail.