(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on March 16, 2004.)
Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) has been all over the map on the topic of the Iraq War. In October 2002, he voted for the Iraq war resolution. Later, assaulted from his left on the campaign trail, he changed his mind, declaring that the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq, even stating that Bush “rushed to war against our warnings.”
When confronted with his vote in favor of the war, Kerry has flip-flopped back, retreating to this position, which he gave this month to a reporter from Time: “I might have gone to war but not the way the President did.”
Is that so? It sounds reasonable enough. But in fact we don??¢â???¬â???¢t have to rely on any such guesswork: we have a way of knowing exactly what Kerry would have done, had he been president.
On September 6, 2002, Kerry laid out a very specific plan for dealing with Iraq in an op-ed in the New York Times. And looking back now at that op-ed, it almost appears that Bush took his advice, step by step, through the entire process.
It is not unfair to hold Kerry to what he said, especially considering his comments to Time Magazine this month: ??¢â???¬?????I refuse ever to accept the notion that anything I’ve suggested with respect to Iraq was nuanced. It was clear. It was precise. It was, in fact, prescient. It was ahead of the curve about what the difficulties were. And that is precisely what a President is supposed to be. I think I was right, 100% correct, about how you should have done Iraq.??¢â???¬
So what did Kerry suggest? On September 6, 2002, he wrote: “For the sake of our country, the legitimacy of our cause and our ultimate success in Iraq, the administration must seek advice and approval from Congress, laying out the evidence and making the case.”
This the administration did, and it received the support of Kerry and most others in Congress.
“Then,” Kerry continued, “in concert with our allies, [the administration] must seek full enforcement of the existing cease-fire agreement from the United Nations Security Council.”
Again, exactly what Bush did in November 2002 by bringing resolution 1441 to the Security Council, giving Iraq a full four months to disarm completely and give inspectors proof thereof. The resolution passed unanimously.
Kerry’s advice continued: “We should at the same time offer a clear ultimatum to Iraq before the world: Accept rigorous inspections without negotiation or compromise. Some in the administration actually seem to fear that such an ultimatum might frighten Saddam Hussein into cooperating.”
This ultimatum was given, and at first Saddam appeared to blink. UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix and his team returned to Iraq.
But they did not receive cooperation “without negotiation or compromise.” To the contrary, as The New York Times reported on January 31, 2003: “Mr. Blix reiterated his report’s key finding that Iraq had not provided anything like the wholehearted cooperation he needed to certify that Saddam Hussein was not concealing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. His concern about Iraq’s attitude, he said, led him to refrain from explicitly asking for more time for inspections when he reported to the Security Council on Monday.”
Even Blix, no fan of the war, knew at that point that the inspection process had failed, in spite of Hussein’s public destruction of a few missiles he supposedly never had to begin with. In the following weeks, Hussein even made new demands of the UN–in other words, “negotiation and compromise,” anathema to the Kerry plan.
But Kerry had foreseen this possiblity as well: “If Saddam Hussein is unwilling to bend to the international community’s already existing order, then he will have invited enforcement, even if that enforcement is mostly at the hands of the United States, a right we retain even if the Security Council fails to act.”
And wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly how things unfolded. Before any vote had been taken, unilateralist John Kerry had already endorsed everything Bush ended up doing, from start to finish.
Nor can Kerry claim he was fooled by sexed-up intelligence from the Bush administration about WMD. He is on the record talking about Iraq’s WMD threat in 1998, when he said, simply, “Saddam Hussein is pursuing a program to build weapons of mass destruction.” As early as 1990, he stated in the Senate that “Iraq has developed a chemical weapons capability, and is pursuing a nuclear weapons development program.”
One might believe that the Iraq War was a bad idea. Still, John Kerry is definitely in no position to criticize anyone for anything–he could practically be the author and architect of the Bush plan.
His constantly shifting position since then, though enigmatic to some, is easily explained in three words: transparent political opportunism.