JOSH MARSHALL AND KEVIN DRUM HAVE BOTH ADDRESSED KERRY’S IRAQ WAR resolution problem — and I don’t really want to pile on. Josh basically agrees with Kerry’s position that he voted for a process that gave the president the power to go to war as part of a suite of efforts to keep pressure on Saddam Hussein to support weapons inspections.
Drum also thinks that Kerry’s comments on the war and war resolution are consistent with many other of his earlier statements, and that this is “not so hard to understand at all.”
I think John Kerry is making a mistake similar to the one John McCain made over the debate about South Carolina’s Confederate flag. McCain was drawn into a litmus test of his views that would clearly divide one group of South Carolinians from another, and unfortunately took the bait and responded with “a statement echoing the language of white Southerners trying to keep the old battle flag flying over the Capitol in Columbia.” McCain called the confederate flag a “symbol of heritage.”
I have great respect for John McCain and wish he had trounced Bush in the 2000 primaries — but he got drawn into a trap that he could have evaded. The way he should have responded, had I been advising him, is that the only flag he and his fellow prisoners of war cared to see from the gulag of the “Hanoi Hilton” was the stars and stripes, the American flag — and that was the only flag he felt worth talking about. So much for hindsight.
Kerry is allowing himself to be drawn into seeming as if he supported this mess in Iraq. That way, liberal and independent hawks who supported the war will be with him — and those opposed to the invasion can parse the resolution into arguing that he really didn’t support it — but rather supported a regime of forced weapons inspections that would have ultimately kept us out of war.
I wish Kerry had said that he should have guessed that Bush was going to short-circuit the “process” that the Iraq resolution called for and that in hindsight — he would not have given the president such latitude.
Kerry might have stated that rather than voting for the resolution — he should have called on Bush to send 100,000 troops after bin Laden in Afghanistan.
And Kerry might have offered further counsel to President Bush — “Mr. President. . .Come back to Congress when you finish this task and shut down al Qaeda, and then we can talk about Iraq; but frankly Pakistani nuclear materials proliferation and North Korean and Iranian weapons programs ought to rank higher on your priority list.”
To some degree, the distraction of resources toward regime change in Iraq gave the opportunity to bin Laden & Co. to regroup. Saddam Hussein deserves to be reviled — but he was a rational, self-interest maximizing thug who was rational in terms that we could understand. I believe that we could have found a complex of penalties and opportunities to keep Hussein in place until it made sense for us to deal with him, with allies aligned with us.
Bin Laden, in contrast, is rational in far scarier ways — so rational that he has brewed up a movement that thus far seems undeterrable.
Kerry and other members of Congress, the media, and the blue chip members of America’s civil society should not have allowed the seamless jump of attention from bin Laden and Afghanistan to Saddam Hussein.
Thus, in hindsight, Kerry should be saying that all of our muscle should have been focused on making bin Laden style terrorism a minor punctuation point in our nation’s history — rather than the enormous clause it has now become.
— Steve Clemons