Memo To: Political Editors
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: What He Really Said
On August 9, my wife and I were floating around on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, almost completely cut off from the news of the day. It was not until I returned to the states later in the month that I learned President Bush that day told supporters in Virginia he still would have gone to war based on the evidence at hand at the time, and he challenged Kerry to say whether he would have cast the same vote. I was then amazed to learn of reports that Kerry said he would have voted the same way even if he knew then about Iraq what he now knows! I was amazed because Kerry could hardly engage the President on the necessity for the war against Iraq if that is what he actually said. Even the President has not gone that far. Where did this come from? It came from Mr. Bush, who responded to Kerry’s real answer in defending his vote in October 2002 on what he knew at the time, not what he knows now. Here is the Bush response:
My opponent has found a new nuance. He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Senator Kerry now agrees with me that even though we have not found the stockpile of weapons we believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Indeed, I checked around and found Kerry never said anything of the sort. He of course voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq if the President took the issue to the United Nations and exhausted the diplomatic remedies before sending troops to disarm Saddam. Given the fact that practically everyone believed Saddam might have WMD and had been connected to Al Qaeda, Kerry’s support for the resolution was a reasonable one.
I was totally opposed to a war at the time because I believed Iraq had in fact rid itself of its weapons of mass destruction and WMD programs in 1991. I also believed Baghdad had no relations with Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. Yet I saw that the Senate vote was a victory for Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was eager to get the issue into the UN at a time when the neo-con warhawks were urging pre-emptive war on Iraq without asking UN involvement at all. We had invaded Afghanistan after 9-11 without asking UN support and the neo-cons thought Iraq could be handled the same way, as another battle in the “war on terrorism.” In order to get the support of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Senator Kerry (who was already being seen as a presidential candidate in 2004), the President also agreed that if UN diplomacy failed, he would so certify in letters to the House and Senate, but would need no further authorization from Congress.
As it happened, the UN Security Council responded to the President’s appeal by passing UNSCRes #1441 with a 15-to-0 vote, which called upon Saddam to submit to unconditional inspections by the UN’s UNMOVIC and IAEA agencies or suffer unspecified consequences. The record is clear that Baghdad did everything asked of it, as Saddam knew if he didn’t there would be a war that would end his regime. The inspectors spent the next few months scouring Iraq for any trace of WMD and found nothing. The CIA even gave the inspectors a hundred places to look, but in every case nothing was found. Undeterred, the Bush administration insisted WMD programs were hidden so well the UN could not find them and only war a US led inspection team would find them. The President tried to get the UN Security Council to go along with him, but most of the rest of the world decided diplomacy was in fact working and there was no need to spill blood. The President wrote out the letters to the House and Senate stating that diplomacy had failed and two days later gave the word for our troops to invade Iraq from their posts in Kuwait.
Where was Senator Kerry in all this? Here is an account in the July 26 issue of The New Yorker, a commendable Kerry profile by Phil Gourevitch:
At campaign rallies, Kerry often says of Bush, “If you think I would have taken us to war the way he did, you shouldn’t vote for me.” This line is carefully formulated, he told me, “Because I might well have been in Iraq if Saddam had stiffed the U.N., continued to not allow inspections, hidden things. But I would have brought other countries to the point of impatience with him. Then they would have been there with us. And the President could have done that. I know because I spent the time to go up and meet with Security Council representatives. I talked to them at great length prior to the vote.”
Kerry was the only senator to go to New York for such a meeting. “I came away convinced they were serious, that the resolutions did mean something, that they saw it as a moment for the U.N. to stand up for itself,” he said. “But they had political issues in their own countries, their own populations weren’t ready, they needed to go through a certain walk up to it. That was legitimate, and the President never gave them a chance to that – forced it down their throats, built up so fast – and they became aware that he just intended to go do this. He sent them a message of disrespect without the process. Then they got their backs up, and that led to a series of stubborn encounters that resulted in a failed foreign policy.”
You can see here that it would be impossible for Kerry to now say, knowing what he now knows, that he could justify the President’s decision to invade when he did. Still, from the Bush formulation to Kerry’s response in defending his vote on what he knew AT THE TIME, that the idea lingers in the major media. Here was Tim Russert yesterday on “Meet the Press” quizzing Senator Hillary Clinton on the subject:
MR. RUSSERT: But John Kerry said he would vote again today for authorization, even knowing what he knows now. You don't agree with that.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, but I think the point John was making was the same one I was making, that we don't have a choice to have hindsight. You know, I have said many times, I think on this program, that I don't regret giving the president authority based on what we knew at the time, but I regret deeply the way he's used it.
I’ve already written to Tim Russert suggesting he check into this, as it is key to understanding Kerry and his differences with the President. If you wish to run this down further, Joe Rothstein of www.USpoliticstoday.com advised me that William Saletan, the chief political correspondent at Slate, went to the trouble on August 12 running down the facts of the matter.
It would be helpful if Senator Kerry himself cleared this up, perhaps on his next visit to “Meet the Press.” As it was plain from her response to Russert, Hillary Clinton may herself be confused on what Kerry said on August 9.