WE REALLY DON'T KNOW what a President John Kerry would do about Iraq. His flip-flops about the war, his inconsistencies, the ambiguity of his current position (win or withdraw?)--all of these mean we can only guess about a Kerry presidency. He would probably be inclined to get out of Iraq as soon as possible; it might be the case, however, that as president he would nonetheless find himself staying and fighting. Who knows?

What we do know is this: Kerry and his advisers have behaved disgracefully this past week. That behavior is sufficient grounds for concern about his fitness to be president.

On Tuesday, President Bush spoke to the United Nations General Assembly. Senator Kerry decided not to say anything supportive of the president as he made the American case to the "international community." Nor did he simply campaign that day on other issues. No. Less than an hour after President Bush finished speaking in New York, Kerry was criticizing his remarks in Jacksonville, Florida: "At the United Nations today, the president failed to level with the world's leaders. Moments after Kofi Annan, the secretary general, talked about the difficulties in Iraq, the president of the United States stood before a stony-faced body and barely talked about the realities at all of Iraq. . . . He does not have the credibility to lead the world."

So Kerry credits Kofi Annan--who a few days before had condemned the "illegal" American war in Iraq--as a more accurate source of information on the subject than the president of the United States. Kerry also seems to think it significant that the General Assembly sat "stony-faced" while the president spoke. Would the applause of delegates from China, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and, yes, France, have made the president's speech more praiseworthy in Kerry's eyes?

Then Kerry was asked about Kofi Annan's description of the war in Iraq as an "illegal" invasion. Kerry answered: "I don't know what the law, the legalities are that he's referring to. I don't know." So the U.S. government is accused of breaking international law, and Kerry chooses not to defend his country against the charge, or to label it ridiculous or offensive. He is agnostic.

Then Kerry continued: "Well, let me say this to all of you: That underscores what I am saying. If the leader of the United Nations is at odds with the legality, and we're not working at getting over that hurdle and bringing people to the table, as I said in my speech yesterday, it's imperative to be able to build international cooperation." It's our fault that the U.N. is doing almost nothing to help in Iraq. After all, according to Kerry, "Kofi Annan offered the help of the United Nations months ago. This president chose to go the other way."

Leave aside the rewriting of history going on here. The president of the United States had just appealed for help from the United Nations and its member states to ensure that elections go forward in Iraq. Kerry could have reinforced that appeal for help with his own, thereby making it a bipartisan request. He chose instead to give the U.N., France, Germany, and everyone else an excuse to do nothing over these next crucial five weeks, with voter registration scheduled to begin November 1. If other nations prefer not to help the United States, the Democratic presidential candidate has given them his blessing.

Two days later, Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi spoke to a joint meeting of Congress. Sen. Kerry could not be troubled to attend, as a gesture of solidarity and respect. Instead, Kerry said in Ohio that Allawi was here simply to put the "best face on the policy." So much for an impressive speech by perhaps America's single most important ally in the war on terror, the courageous and internationally recognized leader of a nation struggling to achieve democracy against terrorist opposition.

But Kerry's rudeness paled beside the comment of his senior adviser, Joe Lockhart, to the Los Angeles Times: "The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips."

Is Kerry proud that his senior adviser's derisive comment about the leader of free Iraq will now be quoted by terrorists and by enemies of the United States, in Iraq and throughout the Middle East? Is the concept of a loyalty to American interests that transcends partisan politics now beyond the imagination of the Kerry campaign?

John Kerry has decided to pursue a scorched-earth strategy in this campaign. He is prepared to insult allies, hearten enemies, and denigrate efforts to succeed in Iraq. His behavior is deeply irresponsible--and not even in his own best interest.

There is some chance, after all, that John Kerry will be president in four months. If so, what kind of situation will he have created for himself? France will smile on him, but provide no troops. Those allies that have provided troops, from Britain and Poland and Australia and Japan and elsewhere, will likely recall how Kerry sneered at them, calling them "the coerced and the bribed." The leader of the government in Iraq, upon whom the success of John Kerry's Iraq policy will depend, will have been weakened before his enemies and ours--and will also remember the insult. Is this really how Kerry wants to go down in history: Willing to say anything to try to get elected, no matter what the damage to the people of Iraq, to American interests, and even to himself?

--William Kristol

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