If I could pick one theme from the Natick Town Meeting I attended yesterday, it would be Leadership - or a lack thereof. Senator Kerry laid out, in fairly clear terms, the need for Leadership in the:
- Executive Branch
- Legislative Branch
- Iraqi Government
However, we aren't getting that leadership today. President Bush has shown a complete unwillingness to do any of the steps necessary to ensure peace, a transition or a stable government in Iraq. Bush has run so rampant in that region, he "threatens the legitimacy of our country in almost every single regard," the Senator said.
Kerry wasn't there to mince words - and the people in attendance weren't there to hear anything except exactly what they wanted to hear: get out of Iraq, now. It's no joke, the people are frustrated. Some of those people took it out on the Senator, some of them were just Larouch types and were annoying for the sake of being annoying. However, that doesn't change the fact that the Senator gave a concrete, important exchange on exactly what needs to take place to change course in Iraq.
The verdict? Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy. This country needs to start the dialogue between all the players in the region. Kerry said he's talked with all of those leaders and that a willingness exists, it's just that a certain President is too stubborn to try it out. That President was too stubborn to talk to Iran and to groups in Palestinian territory - and look how things have turned out because Bush's inaction.
Furthermore, until the day we go into those negotiations and set a time line for Iraq, the Iraqis are never going to be able to govern themselves. Right now, America is a "scape goat" for some of the factions in Iraq. I probably won't be able to put this as clearly as the Senator, but he made a very strong case: essentially, as long as we're there, we're providing cover for certain forces within Iraq to expect us to solve their problems for them... while they allow their militias to do whatever it is that they want them to do, instead of what needs to be done. If we left, the Senator explained, they'd start the job of actually Leading in Iraq.
Some of the frustration among the people there really came from what I think was anger toward the party for folding, not anything the Senator has done himself. One person, someone who was a "Veteran for Peace," attacked the Senator for standing up and saying the right things when he was younger... then running from them every day since. Kerry said he stands by all those statements today, as he did then, and made a strong defense: he's stood by a time line to get out of Iraq whether he had 5 people voting his way, 14, 48 or 51. Even when it wasn't conventional wisdom, he put his neck on the line and tried to do the right thing. He helped build that coalition to get to 51 - through his actions in the Senate as well as campaigning to get people like Jim Webb elected. He's right.
Obviously, like anyone, the Senator isn't perfect. Maybe during the Presidential election, he took the wrong direction on Iraq. He obviously regretted losing, because of how bad things have really turned out. At one point, when talking about a soldier's funeral he had recently attended, he was visibly upset. However, since losing, he's really been on the front lines arguing for sanity in that country: he, along with people like Senator Kennedy and Finegold, have been the ones pushing for a time line for years now.
So, I was a little taken aback when a few people in the crowd took his 'we need to leave the country in a responsible way' for meaning we need to keep troops in Iraq. The Senator was slightly ambiguous on that one point, but it had more to do with style than content. He should have just simply said, "We have more than 160,000 troops in Iraq. You can't just withdraw them at the snap of a finger, you need some kind of plan."
I'd imagine the people at this forum are just like the people attending these forums across the country, be they at Walnut Hill School or some random town in Kentucky with a population of 200. People want out of Iraq, Republicans and Democrats, and they want out soon - so soon that no words of "responsibility" or "negotiations" will coax them into slowing down.
What the Senator must do is find a way to target this anger into something useful: passion. Like Governor Patrick says, 'if you want something, come and get it.' The people want to leave Iraq - bad - and will work for it, if we have a leader. There are more than 40 Republican Senators who need to be convinced to leave Iraq and hundreds of millions of Americans who should be spearheading that effort. Senator Kerry has helped channel the efforts of an anti-war movement before, when he was a twenty something returning veteran. Now, a powerful Senator with a lifetime of experience, he needs to be that person again. No one is as positioned to be the leader in this country to get us out of Iraq, in a responsible way, than Senator Kerry. I call on him, as my Senator, to be that Leader once again.