Kerry on the war
Published August 11, 2004
As they say in Chicago, if you don't like the weather, wait a minute. The same applies to John Kerry's position on Iraq. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mr. Kerry said he would still have voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war, even if he had known that intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs was flawed, that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMD and that there was no link between Saddam and September 11. "Yes, I would have voted for the authority," Mr. Kerry said while visiting the Grand Canyon. "I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." This was in response to a direct challenge by President Bush.
By now, we probably don't need to inform our readers that Mr. Kerry's current position on Iraq contrasts with his previous positions, which have wavered from hawk to dove, and whatever odd ducks fall in between. As late as July 11, Mr. Kerry called the Iraq war a "mistake."
They might, however, come as a bit of a surprise to a whole lot of Kerry supporters. For instance, at the Democratic Convention in Boston, 95 percent of delegates were opposed to the Iraq war. A July 19-21 Gallup Poll found that 72 percent of Democrats believe the United States should not have gone to war. In short, Mr. Kerry, the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, is at odds with the vast majority of Democratic voters on the fundamental issue in this year's presidential election.
He might not have realized he was doing so at the time, but Mr. Kerry's concession only works to erode one of the core criticisms Democrats have leveled against the Bush administration. Far from responding to Mr. Bush's challenge with defiant resolve, Mr. Kerry has further undermined his party's position. Back in the heady days of the Democratic primaries, say in January, voters to some degree understood that Mr. Kerry would not only have avoided invading Iraq, but he also would scrap the policy of pre-emption that stands as a pillar of Mr. Bush's foreign policy. Now, it appears as if Mr. Kerry just endorsed pre-emption. Forget the swing vote -- Mr. Kerry owes an explanation to his Democratic base.
Yet this failure on the part of the Kerry campaign goes beyond politics. Building a coherent position on the war -- both before the invasion and the current situation -- is not like pitching another campaign perennial that everyone takes for standard populist rhetoric. Mr. Kerry's reliance on foreign leaders -- the only element in his acceptance speech in Boston that resembled an Iraq "plan" -- is turning a little stale. His further insistence that his vote for the war but against the funding of the troops was consistent is laughable, in light of his concession on Monday.
Should Mr. Kerry be elected in November, he will inherit Iraq, and he better start figuring out what he truly thinks about it beyond Election Day.