Politics & Policy

Two Johns, Two Positions

What's the Dems' position on Iraq?

“People of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq.”–Democratic-platform draft language

What to make of a political party that doesn’t officially have a position on the biggest policy question in our politics? The Democratic-platform language on Iraq is almost meaningless. People of good will disagree about most everything, up to and including abortion and child labor–yet the Democrats manage to have positions on those issues. Iraq war, yes or no? The Democrats answer with a definite maybe.

This campaign will witness a stark battle of dueling strategic viewpoints. President Bush’s radical new national-security doctrine is “preemption.” John Kerry’s is “cognitive dissonance.” The Massachusetts senator is a dovish-hawk or hawkish-dove depending on which set of feathers might suit his particular political circumstance at the moment, molting on command to avoid following any given statement to what might reasonably be considered its logical conclusion.

Kerry has suggested Iraq was not a war of necessity. But Kerry voted to authorize the war. So Kerry made it a practice as a senator to vote for wars of choice? Isn’t that irresponsibility worthy of a long, unflattering portrayal in Michael Moore’s next film? Kerry has said that Bush should have given diplomacy more time to work. So a war of choice is wrong if it is launched on March 19, 2003, but O.K. if it’s launched on June 19, 2003? A war of choice is fine if it is approved by France, even though it is Americans who will still do almost all the dying?

If Kerry wants to avoid the dishonor of voting for a war of choice, he has to admit that toppling Saddam Hussein was in some sense necessary. Indeed, Kerry said before the war that Saddam had to accept “rigorous inspections without negotiation or compromise” (he didn’t), or face “enforcement” (he did). John Edwards was even more forthright. Liberal critics have accused Bush of calling Iraq an “imminent” threat–in their minds, the ultimate in dishonest exaggeration–but that word never passed Bush’s lips. Edwards, in contrast, used it multiple times in reference to Iraq.

John “Imminent” Edwards now has forgotten his earlier alarmism. “When John Kerry is president of the United States,” he said the other day, “no young American will ever go to war needlessly because America has decided to go it alone.” How does a war against an “imminent” threat suddenly become “needless”? And again, why would Edwards, together with Kerry, vote to authorize such a “needless” war?

Ah, but you say, the country was “misled” by Bush about the threat from Iraq? This is the word Kerry uses about Bush’s pro-war advocacy. By that standard, he and his running mate, both of whom talked frighteningly about the threat from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, were also complicit in this misleading rush to war. Worse, Edwards sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, doing oversight of an agency that through its incompetence or dastardliness was helping Bush (and Kerry and Edwards) mislead the country about Saddam.

Of course, our prewar intelligence proved flawed. But when you invade a country and occupy it, you necessarily will have much better intelligence than when it was occupied by a hostile dictator. To his credit, Kerry refuses to play the absurd retrospective game of saying whether he would have voted for Iraq or not given what we know now. But Kerry’s caution stems more from an unwillingness to stand up and be counted on Iraq yet again, than from an appreciation of the necessarily imperfect knowledge upon which policymakers base their decisions.

Kerry, after all, has to preserve his maneuverability. The Democrats’ platform language doesn’t have it quite right. It shouldn’t say that “people” of good will can disagree among themselves about Iraq, but that a “person” of good will can disagree with himself. That would reflect the Kerry position nicely.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.


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