Kerry and Bush share one major plank of an Iraq policy: Both support rapidly training and equipping Iraqis to take over security responsibilities, a position that used to be known as "Iraqification." This is the right strategy in the medium-to-long term. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld chose to make it a strategy for the immediate term, and the result is the chaos that a President Kerry would inherit. At this late hour, with anti-occupation fury a widely shared sentiment among Iraqis, adding more U.S. troops, even if it were an option, is likely to generate even more hostility, as the CSIS report referenced below points out. Bush made this mistake. A Kerry administration would have to live with it.
The key issue on which Kerry's position on Iraq diverges from Bush's is on internationalization. As I've written before, I don't see much hope for foreign troops in any significant number to relieve overburdened U.S. forces. However, Kerry's internationalization strategy doesn't only mean foreign troops. It means a renewed diplomatic push for debt forgiveness and foreign aid that Bush has been unable to produce. While I'm not expecting a President Kerry to hit the foreign-treasury jackpot, it's likely that Kerry could produce at least some diplomatic results that the loathed Bush can't.
Furthermore, Kerry does have at least one idea that I think is valuable for the future of Iraq on its own terms, and it's one that Bush probably will never embrace. That is, holding a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq, "in order to secure a pledge of respect for Iraq's borders and non-interference in IraqÂ’s internal affairs." This means dealing diplomatically with decidedly disgusting regimes like Syria and Iran. In particular it means dealing with Iran at a time of international crisis over its nuclear program. But, as a new poll from the International Republican Institute demonstrates (caution: PowerPoint), Iraqis view all the regional countries as playing net negative roles in the country. Unless there can be some attempt--and it might fail--to secure regional cooperation, Iraq will continue its swift descent into becoming the Lebanon of the early 21st century, with neighboring countries intensifying their attempts to coopt or prop up various Iraqi factions. It's not a question of such regional diplomacy being a particularly enticing option. It's a question of Bush's disastrous occupation bringing us to the point where we have to prioritize: Is the prospect of stabilizing Iraq important enough to us to bring us to the negotiating table with Iran--especially while we try to stop Iran's nuclear program? Bush's preferred approach is to pretend the dilemma doesn't exist, and have his speechwriters concoct some soundbite that portrays the resulting chaos as a speedbump on the inexorable road to Middle Eastern democracy.
In short, a Kerry administration will be inheriting an Iraq policy that will suffer from several severe constraints. Those constraints are due to the disaster of President Bush's occupation--notably, the unwillingness to send more troops to provide security early on and the subsequent inability for most reconstruction projects to actually occur, to name just two particularly cataclysmic mistakes. More than anything else, bitter experience demonstrates why Bush is unqualified for another four years of presiding over Iraq policy. Kerry might indeed lead the occupation further into the ditch. The last year has proven that Bush definitely will. And, given a choice between some measure of hope and no hope at all, I think the choice is pretty clear.
Despite the GOP spin, Kerry's position on Iraq has been rather stable. He's been for the war and against the methods we used to fight it. Since Bush's methods have led to disaster, I'm not unopen to new ideas to fight what remains a very important US objective.