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Yet more nuances from Kerry on Iraq.

It now appears that Senator John Kerry’s statement that he would have voted to go to war in Iraq–even if he had known that weapons of mass destruction would not be found–was “nuanced” after all. Shortly after this apparently unambiguous declaration, Rand Beers, one of Kerry’s national-security advisers, told the New York Times that there were four “differences” between the Bush and Kerry policies: “Rushing to war is one, doing it without enough allies is two, doing it without equipping our troops adequately is three, and doing it without an adequate plan to win the peace is a fourth.” What was not clear from this statement was whether these four elements were conditions–all of which would have to be satisfied before Kerry would act–or simply aspirations, ways that Kerry would have done the same thing better if he’d had the opportunity.

Now we have a statement from the Kerry camp that suggests the senator was once again hiding behind nuance in answering the president’s question. In an interview in the Washington Post, Jamie Rubin, another of Kerry’s foreign-policy advisers, said he had been wrong in an earlier statement that Kerry would “in all probability” have gone to war against Iraq. According the Washington Post, Rubin now says that “what we don’t know is what would have happened if a president had gone about it in the right way.” In other words, by having his campaign advisers enunciate four additional conditions, Kerry has once again left himself an out: he would not necessarily have invaded Iraq–he would have gone to war only if he could have been satisfied that four conditions were present. Not even his foreign-policy advisers seem to know for sure what the senator would have done as president.

It is remarkable enough that a specific question from the president was necessary to elicit any kind of direct response from Senator Kerry about what he would have done about Saddam Hussein. (One wonders what the media has been doing.) It now seems, however, that the president actually didn’t get a clear answer–there were unstated conditions, nuances, in Kerry’s seemingly unambiguous response–and thus the president must continue his investigation. If the known absence of WMDs was not a condition to action by Senator Kerry, it is now important to know what the real conditions were, and whether Senator Kerry would have required all four to be satisfied before he would have authorized an invasion of Iraq. The president could sensibly ask the following questions about each of the components of the Kerry policy.

The “rush to war.” The United States invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003. In late January 2002, a full 15 months earlier, President Bush cited the “axis of evil”–including Iraq, North Korea, and Iran–in his State of Union address. Shortly thereafter, in the first week of February 2002, the New York Times reported from Europe that spokesmen for the governments of Russia, China, France, and Germany were warning the United States and the Bush administration not to go to war against Iraq. So the president was seen even at this early point as having threatened war against Saddam Hussein in his State of the Union address. This was followed by a vote in Congress to authorize action if Saddam did not disarm, interminable negotiations over the first U.N. resolution, and then over a second. If 15 months is a rush to war, the president should ask Senator Kerry how much more time he would have given Saddam Hussein.

Without allies. At the outset, it is important to note that the existence or nonexistence of allies was not always so important to Kerry, who voted against the 1991 Gulf War even though we had a much larger coalition–including all our “traditional allies”–in support of our action. In any event, there are now 30 countries currently assisting the coalition in Iraq, including of course Great Britain and Italy. Senator Kerry has not said what additional countries he would have brought into his coalition–apparently because he has not been asked. The only major NATO allies not included are France and Germany. France, with six million Muslims in its population, and enjoying huge profits from selling goods to Iraq, has opposed the U.S. attack from the outset. The German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, was saved from defeat in the last election by his open and strident opposition to the U.S. invasion. The likelihood that either of those countries would have joined the coalition in Iraq is virtually nil, so the question nags whether, for Senator Kerry, the “rush to war” meant going to war under any circumstances without France and Germany. The president can clear this up by asking him whether he would have invaded Iraq without the support of France and Germany. This would help the American people understand how important to Senator Kerry are the views of other countries when the interests of the United States are at stake.

Without adequate equipment. Since this is the senator who voted against the $87 billion appropriation that included funds for equipping the troops, it is important to know the degree to which this vote depended on the two previous conditions. Is he saying that he would have voted to equip the troops if we hadn’t “rushed to war”–whatever that means–or if France and Germany had approved? The president should now ask Senator Kerry what exactly were the conditions under which he would have voted to equip the troops. It is important for the American people to understand from this complex thinker just what would have been necessary to get Senator Kerry’s vote for that $87 billion appropriation.

Without a plan to win the peace. In February 2003–a month before the invasion of Iraq–President Bush spoke at the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute. In an address covered fully by the news media, he stated that his plan for Iraq–if the invasion should occur–was to establish a democracy there that would be a beacon of hope for all the peoples of the Middle East. Sounds like a plan. It even sounds like vision. In fact, that plan is now working itself out in Iraq, which is now a fully sovereign nation. This apparently is not a sufficient plan for Senator Kerry. He implies that that he would have had a different and better plan. If so, the American people should hear it, especially if this is the plan he would implement as president. And again, if the news media won’t ask what it is, the President should do it for them.

Peter J. Wallison is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is a former White House counsel for Ronald Reagan and the author of Ronald Reagan: The Power of Conviction and the Success of His Presidency.

Peter J. Wallison is a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein in the Administrative State.


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