to Have Iraq Both Ways
February 8, 2003
By Mike McArdle
John Kerry, the Massachusetts Senator, who is running for
the Democratic nomination for President, was making one of
his frequent appearances on the Imus in the Morning program
Friday morning when many of us on the East Coast were snowed
in and had the opportunity to hear him.
Kerry, like numerous politicians of both parties, seems to
enjoy appearing on the Imus show. I suppose pols like the
show because it gives them the opportunity to shed their political
demeanor for a while, crack a few jokes with Imus and his
staff and in general seem a little bit more like real people
than they do on Meet the Press or C-SPAN. For a politician
that's usually a win-win. Hell, even that perennial class-clown,
John Ashcroft, visited Imus occasionally during his Senate
years. Kerry, long plagued by a reputation for cold aloofness
has used the Imus appearances to soften his image.
When the light-hearted pleasantries ended, however, Imus
had to ask Kerry about Iraq. What about Powell's presentation
to the UN? Kerry muttered something about it being a positive
contribution to the debate. Imus mentioned that Kerry had
voted for the war resolution in November. Kerry said that
he voted for Bush to go to the UN and pursue the disarmament
of Iraq. Imus, probably sensing that Kerry who as recently
as last week was cautioning Bush not to "rush to war,"
was trying to have it both ways finally asked him to spell
out exactly how he differed from Bush on Iraq.
Kerry said something about wanting to be specific and then
went about on inspections and new UN resolutions and the importance
of allies and unity and ended up talking about how about how
he placed more importance on allies than Bush but couldn't
rule out a unilateral war. At least I think that's what I
think Kerry said because by the time he finished I really
wasn't paying attention. I actually wanted to shovel snow
rather than listen to him anymore.
It was excruciating because Kerry's answer was total bullshit.
He knew it, I knew it, Iím sure Imus knew it - but Kerry is
in a position where he can't tell the truth.
Kerry both fought in and protested the Vietnam War but, of
course, he didn't do them both at the same time. On Iraq he's
been forced into trying to support the war while simultaneously
paying lip service to those who oppose it. Kerry knows that
the Democratic constituency that he must appeal to if he is
to be the nominee contains a very large anti-war component.
At the same time he knows that if the upcoming war is successful
Kerry could not enter a general election vulnerable to the
charge that he would have left a dangerous threat to America
If the war goes badly Kerry knows that Bush will get the
blame; if it goes well Kerry can claim that he supported the
effort, attempt to neutralize the defense issue and try to
win on the economy. It's ugly but it's politics and everyone
running for President in 2004 has to deal with the war issue.
The elephant in the campaign headquarters is that we know
that we can reasonably assume that a President Kerry (or Gephardt
or Edwards or even Lieberman) almost certainly would not have
initiated the past six months of Iraq hysteria and the upcoming
war. The Iraq war was hatched in neo-con think tanks like
the America Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New
American Century where there is a belief that unbridled American
military power should be aggressively employed or at least
threatened in pursuit of American diplomatic and economic
interests all over the world. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz,
Richard Armitage and the Nosferatu-like Richard Perle were
all proponents of this idea before coming to the White House
with a malleable little man who was willing to listen to their
dream of a neo-con manifest destiny.
But when America is going to war (even a latter day Spanish
American War like this one) a politician is expected be supportive.
Even during Vietnam the politicians who turned against the
war almost always argued for a negotiated settlement rather
than a complete pullout. And even that position was controversial
and they frequently heard the charge that they were undermining
the gallant soldiers in the field. Kerry and the others know
this and it's no coincidence that the most anti-war Presidential
contenders were the ones who didnít have to vote on last November's
So was Kerry being hypocritical in failing to point out that
none of this would be happening if he was President? Of course
he was. Are he and the other candidates taking the anti-war
Democrats for granted while trying to play to a broader electorate?
Yes, they are. Are they playing politics with the lives of
a lot of people, many of them innocent? Unfortunately yes.
Are we going to have to support one of these people next
Fall as infuriating as it is to listen to them now? Absolutely.