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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Did Kerry Vote for War or Leverage?

Commenter David Nieporent (of Jumping to Conclusions) was up late last night, leaving two comments (here and here) about my post on Kerry's consistent position vis-a-vis Iraq.

David does not really challenge the thrust of my argument. Instead, he goes after "Kerry's claim that he was merely voting for the resolution to give Bush leverage."

1) "It's complete and utter" BS. "Not one person on the planet viewed that congressional vote as anything other than a declaration of war."
Really? Then I guess you are saying President Bush was lying when he repeatedly claimed not to have made up his mind about whether force would be necessary. I've gone through his speeches from August 2002 through March 2003. He said it repeatedly. Indeed, as I've blogged before, Bush spent fall 2002 calling for debate and discussion, not war.

Here's Rumsfeld on August 7:
I would say that we're at a relatively early stage in the dialogue, the international dialogue and discussion and debate on this issue, and I think it merits thoughtful comment rather than trying to particularize it with a series of hypothetical compound questions, if there is such a thing
Bush said this, in fact, as recently as March 6, 2003:
"I've not made up our (sic) mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully. Hopefully, that as a result of the pressure that we have placed -- and others have placed -- that Saddam will disarm and/or leave the country."
Bob Woodward claimed in his last book that Bush made up his mind in January 2003, but Condoleezza Rice denies even that:
She said she was with Mr. Bush in Crawford, Tex., in January 2003 when he expressed his frustration with how weapons inspections were proceeding in Iraq. "He said, `Now, I think we probably are going to have to go to war, we're going to have to go to war,' " Ms. Rice recalled today on the CBS News program "Face the Nation." "It was not a decision to go to war. That decision he made in March when he finally decided to do that."
And John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who was all over mass media in fall 2002, said this on Jim Lehrer's "Newshour" on November 25, 2002 (after the congressional resolution):
I think that two things have happened to the Bush administration over the past few months. One is, I think they've become more aware of the down-side risks of attacking Iraq. And secondly, I think they are aware that there is a lot of opposition in this country to a war against Iraq. And as a result, the Bush administration appears to be willing to let the U.N. inspections regime work, and then maybe declare victory and avoid a war.
War was not certain when Congress voted. It was authorized, but with the caveat the the US should pursue diplomacy through the UN first.
2) "...except one person, and if he was right, then Kerry is wrong in a different way. That person was Robert Byrd, who repeatedly denounced the vote. Congress does not have the constitutional authority to delegate to the president the choice as to whether to go to war. Kerry had no business making such a vote, if that was really his motive."
As you undoubtedly know, Congress has not declared any war since December 1941. Your indictment of Kerry here applies to every member of Congress who has voted to authorize any use of force for decades. That would be a lot of members, including virtually every current Republican who served in 2001 or 2002.

In other words, it is hardly a compelling argument, and one the courts have not resolved since the passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973. This case was different from most prior instances because Bush asked for the authority even as he was claiming that he might not have to use it. He said the leverage would be useful to attain US security goals. On November 8, Bush said this:
"If we're to avert war, all nations must continue to pressure Saddam Hussein to accept this [UN] resolution and to comply with his obligations."
Again, was Bush lying about the chances to avoid war? Was he lying about the use of leverage? Maybe he was just playing partisan politics in the 2002 midterm elections, hoping to trap Democrats in a Catch-22? I report, you decide.
3) "If Kerry felt that authorizing force was necessary to give leverage to the president, then how does that explain his vote in 1990, when he voted AGAINST giving President Bush authority in Iraq? Was he trying to sabotage Bush's diplomatic efforts then?"
Well, the context was completely different. Look at the chronology. The 1991 congressional vote was on January 12, 1991, just four days before war. Congress was being asked to support the use of force after the diplomacy was finished. Bush had already been pressuring Iraq and building an international coalition. Indeed, the UN had already given Hussein a deadline of January 15.

In 2002, the congressional debate began in September and the Senate vote was on October 11. That vote was genuinely before the UN diplomacy. Resolution 1441 passed 15-0 on November 8 and even the White House claimed all along that the congressional vote would help secure the necessary diplomacy.

The leverage of force was already apparent in the nearly half million American troops deployed (plus around a quarter of a million international troops). Kerry was among those arguing to give other means (including sanctions) more time to work. Look at his Senate speech on January 12, 1991 (which can be found via a search here), he said there was no hurry:
"If we go to war in the next few days, it will not be because our immediate vital interests are so threatened and we have no other choice. It is not because of nuclear, chemical, biological weapons when, after all, Saddam Hussein had all those abilities or was working toward them for years--even while we armed him and refused to hold him accountable for using some of them. It will be because we set an artificial deadline."
As George H.W. Bush's neocon foes argued at the time, the war did not topple Saddam Hussein, did not disarm or destroy his WMD, and did not save the thousands of Iraqis who were inspired to rebel by Bush's actions (comments and leaflets) -- but were killed by the regime.

Nieporent continues:
"And Kerry's full of [expletive deleted} another way. Bush and Dean were correct; Kerry is lying or dumb. (I assume the former.) The choice was "between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force." The US could have chosen not to invade; it could not have chosen "more diplomacy."

If Kerry thinks we shouldn't have invaded, fine. But to pretend that there was any chance of getting more support is dishonest. It may not be "flip flopping" in the sense of changing his position, but it's "flip flopping" in the sense of trying to have it both ways, to pretend to be both a war opponent and supporter.

Bush could have sung La Marseillaise while wearing a beret, and it wouldn't have swayed France. Unless there were Iraqi troops marching down the Champs-Elysees, Chirac wasn't going to support this thing. Kerry knows that; he's hoping swing voters who supported the war don't.
Colorful, but wrong.

First, the inspections could have continued until they met serious opposition from Iraq and that would have constituted ongoing diplomacy. Why was that impossible? Iraq was not impeding them. This is what France and Germany clearly favored. Germany might never have agreed to go to war if Iraq started blocking inspections, but they had only a 2-year term on the Security Council. France had the veto.

And there was a chance to draft and pass a second resolution with French support. The Financial Times had a very good multi-part series about the buildup to war (in May 2003). They found that more effort might have brought the French on board for war. Here's some reporting from one of the articles in the series:
Looking back, French and British officials acknowledge a further irony. In the last few days before the resolution was withdrawn, Mr Blair was deeply concerned that France might in the end agree to a plan that would impose a 30-day deadline for Iraq to comply with some tough benchmarks. British officials believe that, at that late stage, Mr Blair would have been forced to accept the proposal. The Americans, they suspect, would have opposed it, splintering the small and fragile coalition. For their part, the French feared that they might have to accept an equally difficult outcome. If the British proposed a tough and serious deadline - of about 30 days - they might well have signed on.
Chile was proposing 30 additional days of inspections and France publicly supported it.

Without the rush to war, the coalition could have been larger and stronger. This would have meant more legitimacy and greater sharing of burdens if war had been necessary.

Of course, the counterfactual is difficult to prove because we don't know what Iraq would have done in those 30 days. If they continued to cooperate, obviously, no weapons would have been found. What then? Probabliy more inspections. At what point would trigger-happy Bush have gone to war? The pretext was collapsing.

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