Reciting a statement Kerry made at Drake University in Iowa in December, when he was battling Howard Dean, who opposed the Iraq war, Bush quoted Kerry as saying that "those who believe we are not safer with [Saddam Hussein's] capture don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president."Yawn.
"I couldn't have said it better myself," Bush said, as the audience roared.
The trouble is that this can be fact-checked. This is what John Kerry actually said at Drake University on December 16, 2003:
I believed then - and I believe now - authorizing force was the only way to get inspectors in, and the only way ultimately to enforce Saddam Hussein's compliance with the mandate he had agreed to, knowing that as a last resort war could become the ultimate weapons inspections enforcement mechanism.Kerry has been saying these exact same things since the very beginning of the Iraq discussion. I've previously quoted at length from Kerry's s speech justifying his Iraq vote in the Senate.
And I also believe that those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe we are not safer with his capture don't have the judgment to be President - or the credibility to be elected President.
A year and a half ago, as this campaign was starting, I argued that for Democrats to win America's votes we must first convince the voters that we will keep America safe.
I believed then and I believe now that Americans deserve better than a false choice between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force.
Here's Kerry in an op-ed in the New York Times, September 6, 2002:
It may well be that the United States will go to war with Iraq. But if so, it should be because we have to -- not because we want to....Gosh, these are nearly identical arguments to the ones Kerry presented in July when he accepted the Democratic nomination! If only the President had been as consistent over the same 21 month period!
Regime change in Iraq is a worthy goal. But regime change by itself is not a justification for going to war. Absent a Qaeda connection, overthrowing Saddam Hussein -- the ultimate weapons-inspection enforcement mechanism -- should be the last step, not the first. Those who think that the inspection process is merely a waste of time should be reminded that legitimacy in the conduct of war, among our people and our allies, is not a waste, but an essential foundation of success.
If we are to put American lives at risk in a foreign war, President Bush must be able to say to this nation that we had no choice, that this was the only way we could eliminate a threat we could not afford to tolerate.
...knowing ahead of time that our military intervention will remove him from power, and that we will then inherit all or much of the burden for building a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, is all the more reason to insist on a process that invites support from the region and from our allies. We will need that support for the far tougher mission of ensuring a future democratic government after the war.
...until we have properly laid the groundwork and proved to our fellow citizens and our allies that we really have no other choice, we are not yet at the moment of unilateral decision-making in going to war against Iraq.
Here's Kerry at the Democratic Debate in New Hampshire, January 22, 2004:
there was a right way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and there was a wrong way.This is basically the exact same message he continues to use.
The right way was what the president promised, to go to the United Nations, to respect the building of an international coalition in truth, to exhaust the remedies of inspections and literally to only go to war as a last result.
Now, I've fought all my life for peace. I fought against the war in Vietnam when I came home. I fought against Ronald Reagan's illegal war in Central America. I fought with John McCain to make peace in Vietnam. I fought to hold the Khmer Rouge accountable in Cambodia. And on and on.
If anybody in New Hampshire believes that John Kerry would have in fact gone to war the way George Bush did, they shouldn't vote for me. But if they know that I would have stood up and exhausted the remedies and done what was necessary to hold them accountable but lived up to the values and principles of our country, then I'm the person to be president who actually can make America more secure without breaching relationships across this planet.
In the debate, in fact, Kerry reminded everyone that he'd been saying the exact same thing since March 2003:
[Use force] As a last resort was the promise of a president. And I wrote in the New York Times at that time, I said the United States of America should never go to war because it wants to. It should only go to war because it has to. And that means building legitimacy and consent of the America people, Brit [Hume, Fox moderator].Can't someone in the media do a little fact checking instead of just repeating what the President claims?
Look, I know there is a test as a commander in chief as to when you send young Americans off to war, because I know what happens when you lose that consent.
And you got to be able to look in the eyes of a family and say you exhausted every possibility and you only sent their son or daughter to die because you had no other choice.
I believe George Bush failed that test in Iraq. I said so at the time, and that's what I believe happened.
There is the right way to do it and wrong way to do it. He chose the wrong way. And he's run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country.
Just for the sake of consistency, here's Kerry on Monday, September 21, 2004...nearly two full years after the op-ed I quoted above:
Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war.It's exactly the same critique he's offered since the Bush administration went to war, which was grounded in his pre-war analysis of the situation.
The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure....
Two years ago, Congress was right to give the President the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.
This president - any President - would have needed the threat of force to act effectively. This president misused that authority...
The president rushed to war without letting the weapons inspectors finish their work.
He went without a broad and deep coalition of allies.
He acted without making sure our troops had enough body armour.
And he plunged ahead without understanding or preparing for the consequences of the post-war. None of which I would have done.
Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious?
Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq?
My answer is no, because a commander-in-chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe...
John Kerry: Mr. Consistency.
The Republicans seem to believe they can win this election through obfuscation and lies about Kerry's position.
However, Kerry has clearly decided to fight back and will have to get his message across. And part of that message has to include highlighting this same history I've posted here.
The entire speech from Monday is worth reading, by the way, though it is basically a summary of key points raised in this blog over the past year.
Update: Robert Kagan and William Kristol attempt to make Kerry look like a flip flopper in The Weekly Standard of September 20. One of their quotes is the same one Bush used Monday.
I don't have time to do all the fact-checking, but William Saletan already covered some of this ground on August 12, in Slate.