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John Kerry's election victory was so close that all he had to do was reach out and grab it. But Kerry did not reach it.

President Bush began the campaign from a terrible starting point: The budget deficit was growing to huge proportions in American terms, the Republican administration was responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, the American public was polarized, most of the world had had enough of the lordly "leader of the free world," and above all, the war in Iraq was deeply mired in controversy as it became clear that its objectives were ephemeral, false or unattainable.

Everything seemed primed for Bush's defeat. America was giving, but John Kerry was not taking. He lost, and not only because of the conservatism so deeply ingrained in American life.

Kerry was a terrible candidate. The election outcome could be gauged by one picture, ostensibly insignificant, just a week before election day. He went wild duck and goose hunting in western Ohio, surrounded by trained hunting dogs, carrying a shot gun, dressed in fatigues and calling himself a hunter from way back. All in order to prove that he was tough, a man's man, that a guy from Massachusetts can also be a Texan, and to make points with the gun lobby.

One detail of the tableau stands out: When Kerry returned from the hunt, he was not carrying the fowl himself - his friends were carrying them for him. The candidate understood that some people in America would be revolted by the sight of limp-necked dead birds. Kerry therefore decided to kill, but to wash his hands of it, or in other words, to kill two birds with one shot.

The hunt story is of course only one colorful illustration of Kerry's characteristic behavior - to be with and without at the same time.

His loss actually could have been predicted from the start of the race. From the moment he voted for the war in Iraq he was lost as a candidate, as an alternative. He later then repeated the same sterile and harmful exercise when he voted to finance the war with an additional $80 billion. Thereafter Kerry was unable to answer one single question: If the war in Iraq was so unnecessary, why did he support it then, and why did he now not admit the error of his ways?

It is certainly not easy to oppose a war looming on the horizon. Who would not want to avenge the Twin Towers? Who would not want to get rid of a bloodstained dictator? And most particularly, who would not want to look the perfect patriot, whose heart is with the soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield?

But in spite of temporary difficulty, a leader has no choice but to stand up and be counted, in "real time" and not in hindsight, which is a poor and even a contemptible form of wisdom. And if we are going to vote for someone who is for war, let's stay with the one who started it, not a stand-in. Most of the world prefers the real thing and avoids imitations.

That is the main reason why Tony Blair will win the upcoming elections in Great Britain, and the leader of the Conservatives, Michael Howard, will lose. Most of the British public has been awakened from its illusions about the war in Iraq, and it does not appreciate, to put it mildly, seeing its prime minister allowing the American president to wag him like a dog's tail. And still, the British will not put their faith in Howard because he too jumped on Blair's bandwagon speeding eastward. Howard therefore cannot be an alternative, since he is a pale version of the original.

And this, truth be told, will be the fate of Ehud Barak if he is chosen once again to lead the Labor Party. Barak was not a successful prime minister; if his merits in the political arena were debatable, his cold and alienating attitude on the social front was not. He acted very much like Netanyahu. Even after his retirement, when he went to "look after his own house," he did not bother to distinguish himself from the possessive, voracious lifestyle of his twin. On the contrary.

Barak, and perhaps not only Barak, is not an alternative. He is the Israeli Kerry, our Howard.