A new interview in Time magazine provides a glimpse into the depth of John Kerry’s struggle to formulate a position on the war in Iraq.
TIME: What would you have done about Iraq had you been the President?
KERRY: If I had been the President, I might have gone to war but not the way the President did. It might have been only because we had exhausted the remedies of inspections, only because we had to—because it was the only way to enforce the disarmament.
TIME: But it turns out there was nothing to disarm.
KERRY: Well, if we had kept on inspecting properly and gone through the process appropriately, we might have avoided almost a $200 billion expenditure, the loss of lives and the scorn of the world and the breaking of so many relationships.
TIME: Would you say your position on Iraq is a) it was a mistaken war; b) it was a necessary war fought in a bad way; or c) fill in the blank?
KERRY: I think George Bush rushed to war without exhausting the remedies available to him, without exhausting the diplomacy necessary to put the U.S. in the strongest position possible, without pulling together the logistics and the plan to shore up Iraq immediately and effectively.
TIME: And you as Commander in Chief would not have made these mistakes but would have gone to war?
KERRY: I didn’t say that.
TIME: I’m asking.
KERRY: I can’t tell you.
TIME: Might the war have been avoided?
TIME: Through inspections?
KERRY: It’s possible. It’s not a certainty, but it’s possible. I’m not going to tell you hypothetically when you’ve reached the point of exhaustion that you have to [use force] and your intelligence is good enough that it tells you you’ve reached that moment. But I can tell you this: I would have asked a lot of questions they didn’t. I would have tried to do a lot of diplomacy they didn’t. …
TIME: Obviously it’s good that Saddam is out of power. Was bringing him down worth the cost?
KERRY: If there are no weapons of mass destruction— and we may yet find some—then this is a war that was fought on false pretenses, because that was the justification to the American people, to the Congress, to the world, and that was clearly the frame of my vote of consent. I said it as clearly as you can in my speech. I suggested that all the evils of Saddam Hussein alone were not a cause to go to war.
TIME: So, if we don’t find WMD, the war wasn’t worth the costs? That’s a yes?
KERRY: No, I think you can still—wait, no. You can’t—that’s not a fair question, and I’ll tell you why. You can wind up successful in transforming Iraq and changing the dynamics, and that may make it worth it, but that doesn’t mean [transforming Iraq] was the cause [that provided the] legitimacy to go. You have to have that distinction.