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Trying 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 in power.

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 resolution.

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.

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