When John Kerry says, "Let me be clear," sensible people reach for the nearest smudge-removal product. Case in point: Oct. 9, 2002, the day Kerry voted to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq. "Let me be clear," Kerry said on the Senate floor. "The vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies."
Oh, sure, there were 6,400 other words--this is Kerry, remember--but that was the "nut paragraph." Clearly.
So lately Bush demands of Kerry: Would you still have voted for the war if you'd known then what we all know now, that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction?
"Yes," Kerry answered last week. "I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have."
(Any ammonia-based cleaner will do.)
Three explanations are possible. One, Kerry is inept. Why answer the question? Why not just say: "Look, I voted for war as a last resort, on the President's word that he wouldn't invade unless Iraq blocked the inspections--or they found something, and the danger was imminent. But as soon as it became clear Iraq wasn't blocking them, and wasn't hiding anything either (except perhaps its embarrassment at not having any WMD's), Bush flip-flopped, and invaded anyway." Flip that flop back on him, in other words.
Instead, Kerry adds to his own list of flip-flops on Iraq, as chronicled by the Republicans--selectively, to be sure, and with clever editing, but nonetheless--at www.kerryoniraq.com. (Pour a stiff drink before viewing. It's 11 minutes of what-the-hell?)
The second possible explanation, clearly, is that Kerry feared he'd be labeled the flip-flopper (again) if he said he'd vote against the war resolution now after voting for it then, just like he got jumped on for voting yea and then nay on the $87 billion war appropriations bill.
If that's it, then he's a coward--but also stupid, since he didn't need to answer the question in the first place, at least not yet. Wait until Bush asks him directly, in the debates.
Bush: Would you change your vote on the war, Sen. Kerry?
Kerry: Your war then, based on the nonexistent WMD's, Mr. President? Or your war now, based on--what would you base it on now, Mr. President? Would you really invade Iraq again, knowing how miserably it's come out? I'd go after Osama bin Laden myself, just like you said you would--before you flip-flopped into Iraq.
(Ditto the $87 billion. Kerry voted for the Democrats' plan to pay it by repealing Bush's tax cuts for the rich, then against the Republicans insistence on adding the $87 billion to the deficit. Principled? No, mainly stupid--you've already made your point, senator, with the first vote--and also cast in fear of Howard Dean's then-rising campaign.)
T he third possible explanation, though, is the one we fear. It's that Kerry really believes that a president--any president--should have the authority to conduct preemptive wars against outlaw countries regardless whether they pose any imminent threat to their neighbors or the United States. Progressive voters, out of disgust with Bush, have conveniently forgiven Kerry for failing to see--despite his 20 years in the Senate, despite his concentration of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees--that the Bush/CIA brief on Iraq's WMD's was a crock. Or maybe he didn't want to see it, since Bush's invasion--circa 2002-03--was so popular.
But maybe Kerry did see it, just as Bush seemed to see it, according to Bob Woodward's book. But then, just like Bush, he brushed it aside, because he thought, WMD's or not, U.N. Security Council resolution or not, a U.S. invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do to bring "order" to the Middle East.
Stupid, cowardly, or not, that's the import of Kerry's answer--that the U.S. had the right to invade Iraq, and was wise to do so, and the only thing missing was broad international support that would have put more troops on the ground to control things better once we were in charge.
"Why did we rush to war without a plan to win the peace?" Kerry went on last week in his answer to Bush. "Why did he (Bush) mislead America about how he would go to war? Why has he not brought other countries to the table in order to support American troops in the way they deserve it and relieve the pressure on the American people?"
Democrats have a candidate who thinks more troops on the ground are the answer in Iraq, and who simultaneously is saying he'll start "significantly" reducing American troops there in a year.
This, as foreign policy analyst William Pfaff said in The Observer of London Sunday, is a recipe for Lyndon Johnson's and Richard Nixon's Vietnam all over again--trying to win another man's war by showing that you can do it better and the other guy just wasn't tough enough.
Nader in N.C.? What is clear is that Kerry is taking the antiwar vote for granted. Four years ago, Ralph Nader held Al Gore's feet to the progressive fire, and it's always been my theory that Nader was the reason Gore won the election: Nader's 6 percent in the polls turned out to be 2 percent for him on Election Day and an extra 3-4 percent who added to the record turnout but voted overwhelmingly for Gore. A week ago, we reported that Nader would try to get on the North Carolina ballot this year--as he couldn't in 2000--by citing a recent federal district court ruling in another candidate's case. On Monday, we got a note from Nader's press secretary, Kevin Zeese, saying they've filed an appeal with the State Board of Elections for just that purpose. Stay tuned.