Turning Back the Kerry Clock
Jude Wanniski
January 12, 2004


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Where Kerry Messed Up

If you watched NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, you saw another superlative interview by Tim Russert of a Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. What we were seeing is the man who a year ago was widely believed to be the frontrunner -- but who is now facing ignominious defeat in his own backyard, in the New Hampshire primary. There is even a poll of Massachusetts Democrats I understand shows Kerry losing to Dean even there. What Tim Russert showed in his probing interview is a Kerry who has taken so many positions on Iraq over the last 18 months that he now cites all of them in defending his decisions when they were critical. It was on Iraq that he failed.

Kerry now says that if he were President we would not now be embroiled in Iraq, and I actually believe that is a true statement. That's because Kerry would not have surrounded himself with advisors who wanted to war against Iraq for their own reasons, as the President did. They did everything they could to manipulate George W. Bush into seeing things their way. A President Kerry would have, as he now says, allowed diplomacy to continue on the course it was on instead of pulling the trigger. I believe him. Here is the relevant exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: What that would mean is Saddam Hussein would still be in power if you were president.

SEN. KERRY: What I was talking about, Tim, was how you go to war. We would be in Iraq if we had exhausted the remedies of the inspections and Saddam Hussein had not complied. We would have used the legitimate threat of force. But if, in fact, he had complied, if he had done -- look, Colin Powell said, and the president said, there's only one reason to go to war, originally, when that was voted on, and that was weapons of mass destruction. And if you go back and read my speech on the floor of the Senate, and I ask you to do it, I said clearly, I am voting to hold him accountable for the weapons of mass destruction. And no other reason to go to war. I did not buy into preemption. I never bought into the notion that you should just remove him for the sake of removing him the way Joe Lieberman and others did. I thought that was wrong. When Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman went down to the White House and cut their own deal with the president, many of us in the Senate were flabbergasted because we felt that the resolution we were working on was a stronger one. I did what was right to protect the security of our country. I believe the president of the United States made an end-run around the Congress, an end-run around the American people, and I'm going to hold him accountable for doing that.

Yes, but if you turn back the clock, when President Bush began to expand the bombing of Iraq in advance of his decision to invade, Kerry said nothing. He actually seemed to be avoiding the discussion of impending war by criticizing the President's handling of Afghanistan. One of the reasons I believed last February that Bush would NOT pull the trigger was that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Senator Kerry had insisted on Bush going to the UN on WMD. And if UN diplomacy had failed, Bush would have to certify that diplomacy had failed. Kerry now says he was "flabbergasted" when Lieberman and Gephardt "cut their own deal with the President," but he said nothing about it to his constituents in Massachusetts or to the broader national audience. Diplomacy was clearly working. The UNMOVIC inspectors had gotten to the point where they said they would only need another few months to be able to assert Iraq was clean of WMD. That's why the United States could not persuade the UN Security Council to authorize war. The UN diplomacy WAS WORKING.

Senator Kerry now says yes, diplomacy was working, but when President Bush sent the letter of certification to the Senate that diplomacy had failed, KERRY SAID NOTHING. Why? I don't know why. Maybe his campaign advisors told him to keep quiet. But that's the point where he messed up, and he can't gloss over it now.

If just before President Bush went on national television to announce the pre-emptive war was about to begin, Senator Kerry had screamed about Bush jumping the gun and abandoning the UN, he would now be the frontrunner in Iowa and New Hampshire. Howard Dean makes the most persuasive case that he was doing exactly that at the time, which is why he has come from last in the pack to frontrunner, with General Wesley Clark close behind in the national polls. The Democrats are going to nominate one or the other.

I do believe if Kerry was President last year we would not have warred with Iraq, that the UN would have completed its work, that Saddam Hussein would still be in charge in Baghdad, and that he would continue to be no threat to either the United States or his neighbors. We would have 500 more American soldiers alive than there are today, with thousands more injured or maimed still sound of life and limb, with tens of thousands of Iraqi's killed in the war still alive. We would have the respect of the international community instead of its disrespect. We would have $160 billion more in the bank and would not be facing the prospect of losing countless lives and treasure in the months and years ahead. Kerry now sees with hindsight that he should have spoken up last March, when it might have done some good. Too bad for all of us he didn't.