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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Presidential update

There's a lot of last minute movement in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls. I won't put all the data here, especially since I get most of it from the DailyKos or Mark A. R. Kleiman. However, I will talk about the data and candidates.

Mark Kleiman is especially interested in New Hampshire, since he backs General Wesley Clark. In the ARG tracking poll from NH, Clark has surged to 22% in the latest tracking polls. Governor Howard Dean is 32% and Senator John Kerry only 13%. In a national tracking poll from Rasmussen, Dean leads Clark 21% to 19%. Representative Dick Gephardt is third at 11%.

Meanwhile, Senator Kerry is surging in Iowa. I just saw reference to an MSNBC/Zogby poll on CNN that showed Kerry leading a tight pack. Kerry, Dean and Gephardt were around 20 to 21% and Senator John Edwards was 17%. Both Kerry and Edwards got important endorsements from Iowa newspapers last weekend and many analysts credit that with their significant recent uptick.

I should note that as recently as late July 2003, I was supporting Kerry in discussions with my progressive friends. While I've focused a lot of attention on frontrunners Dean and Clark, I've said much less about the other candidates. Why was I pro-Kerry?

Here's what I wrote in an email from June 27th (the pre-blog era):
Concerning Kerry's Iraq vote:

Kerry was a decorated Vietnam war hero -- who became a well-known and outspoken young critic of that war. He is certainly not an outlandish hawk. This spring, I assigned his Georgetown foreign policy address in class. He's essentially a genuine multilateralist who supports human rights and various other international norms (Kyoto, arms control, etc).

On the campaign trail, Kerry has clarified his Iraq war vote in a fairly reasonable way -- arguing that the resolution called for UN support and proof that Iraq had WMD. This is from the January Georgetown speech:
"As I have said frequently and repeat here today, the United States should never go to war because it wants to, the United States should go to war because we have to. And we don't have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.

The Administration must pass this test. I believe they must take the time to do the hard work of diplomacy. They must do a better job of making their case to the American people and to the world.

I have no doubt of the outcome of war itself should it be necessary. We will win. But what matters is not just what we win but what we lose. We need to make certain that we have not unnecessarily twisted so many arms, created so many reluctant partners, abused the trust of Congress, or strained so many relations, that the longer term and more immediate vital war on terror is made more difficult. And we should be particularly concerned that we do not go alone or essentially alone if we can avoid it, because the complications and costs of post-war Iraq would be far better managed and shared with United Nation's participation. And, while American security must never be ceded to any institution or to another institution's decision, I say to the President, show respect for the process of international diplomacy because it is not only right, it can make America stronger - and show the world some appropriate patience in building a genuine coalition. Mr. President, do not rush to war."
I voted for Kerry at MoveOn and think he can both win the democratic nomination and squash Bush like a bug.
A lot of material in that speech could have been spoken by Clark, except Kerry was saying it long before Clark entered the race.

Since that date, I've been following Dean and Clark closely, but I still think Kerry would be a good President. His voting record in the Senate has been very good, particularly on environment and foreign policy, two issues that I care about a great deal.

Back to summer 2003. In several followup emails sparked by what I said above, I wrote this a month later (July 23), after including a copy of the Iraq War Resolution passed by Congress:
It's clear that the administration neither gained Security Council resolutions nor agreed with the majority that thought the inspections process was working.

The [Congressional] resolution, in fact, authorized Bush to "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." War was authorized only if peaceful and diplomatic approaches failed.

Since the UNSC didn't pass any new resolutions, the war was pretty clearly illegal internationally -- and Congress didn't specifically authorize it (making it unconstitutional). International lawyers widely agree on the first point.

Domestic politicians might point to other parts of the resolution for cover, but they'd be lying. The more general statement on Presidential determination of national security threats is followed by "and" prior to the specific reference to UNSC resolutions.

Kerry's January speech that I cited earlier is pretty critical of the administration on Iraq. He clearly called for greater attempts to build cooperation, work through the UN and support the inspections process.

Iraq was long a rogue state. Saddam Hussein was a very bad guy. It would have been good to work through the UN to keep him from possessing WMD (chemical weapons are easy to make, by the way, and essentially require only a pesticide factory). If the UN voted for war, it would have been legal to go to war. Kerry and other members of Congress voted for that.

Bush went to war and Congress was a minor player that got trampled.

....[second email of July 23 starts now]...

Rest assured, my point was not to argue that the resolution was a good idea, nor that I would have voted for it.

Rather, I am arguing that the vote was not egregious, requiring Democrats to blackball all those who voted for it. In fact, 29 Democratic Senators voted for it, only 21 opposed (plus one Republican and Jeffords).

I'm very interested in foreign policy and security issues, but am not prepared to make the 2004 election a referendum on the war. Highly motivated anti-war Democrats and Greens would vote with you and me, but I'm not at all confident that the American public would agree. What if there's another horrible terrorist attack late next summer or early next fall?

Put simply, the opposition to Bush and the Republican Congress needs to be united and cannot afford to disqualify fine (perhaps even exceptional) candidates based on a contestable interpretation of a particular vote.

In broad terms, Kerry is a progressive, certainly more so than the American electorate. On the specific question of Iraq he clearly disagreed with the Bush administration months before the war started -- and has continued to pursue this issue. The vote on the congressional resolution did not mean "please attack Iraq ASAP," even if mediots and Republicans spun it that way.

Note what I am not doing -- isolating Kucinich or any other candidate for potentially stupid positions they've held in the past. I suspect Kucinich scored lower than Kerry on every ADA voting analysis because he was pro-life until about 15 minutes ago. Do you want progressives to blackball him because of this past voting record? Given the real-world consequences of those votes, I suspect it left a lot of "blood on his hands," to use your phrase.

Bush must be defated. We can have reasonable debate about the viable alternatives without demonizing needed allies. I love the fact that Kucinich, Dean and other candidates are invigorating the Democratic left. Realistically, however, there are not enough votes in that group to win.

The center is also going to have to be invigorated -- and they are going to have to be convinced by smart reframing of issues.

Let's work on that problem.
Oh hell, since I'm quoting myself so much, this is from yet another email on July 23 (obviously, it was a vigorous exchange). And remember, I wrote this before Clark was in the race:
Like it or not, Democrats are going to have to confront security issues in the campaign, and no one in the field is better positioned than Kerry -- a decorated war hero who was an outspoken anti-Vietnam leader. He's also been opposed to the Bush foreign policy consistently. He was NOT for war against Iraq. Had Congress been asked to sponsor a declaration of war in February or March 2003, I'm very confident Kerry would have voted no.

The context clearly changed from October to March. UN inspectors were roaming Iraq uncontested and the IAEA had reported that Iraq almost surely did not have a nuclear program and that some of the intelligence was clearly wrong. Those are key distinctions "pro-war" Democrats HAVE MADE in contesting Bush's ongoing foreign policy.

....[another email of July 23 starts now]...

Actually, Iraq has long been on the nation's list of states sponsoring terror -- since the 1980s. There are historically only 7 states. And Iraq really did have WMD, including a nuclear program that was close to being operation in the early '90s. The past wasn't manufactured.

In 1998, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act calling for regime change. Kucinich, incidentally, voted for it.

Since there hadn't been any UN inspectors in Iraq from December 1998 until December 2003, there was fairly good reason to think they had at least chemical and biological weapons.

By February, however, that was less true as the inspectors could and did go anywhere.
You can see why I started this blog -- I had to spare my friends the lengthy emails.

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