In the comments, Avery asked:
Why on Earth aren't the Kerry people being clearer and more forceful in responding to the 'flip-flop' charge? Why did I have to wait to hear this from you instead of having Kerry be on TV with an ad showing his speech in 10/02 and turning that back around on Bush, saying Bush acted beyond the authority that Congress gave him? Does he have any idea how to run a campaign?These are all great questions and I fully expect Kerry to explain his record as the campaign develops between now and the election. Let's see what he says this week, eh?
Luckily, based on the polling data, Bush's attack ads haven't seemed to hurt Kerry all that much.
I thought about digging through the news archives to find examples of Kerry explaining himself. Given the rigors of day-to-day campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, etc., I'm quite confident he offered a viable explanation. Here's one recent story from the Boston Globe that helps:
Kerry said Bush had personally misled him into casting his vote to support the war by indicating that the administration would exhaust diplomatic options before using force. In fact, Kerry said several Middle Eastern leaders, including Saudis, had told him the Bush administration was committed to war more than a year before the actual invasion. But he set aside his concerns after receiving assurances from President Bush.Let me make a leap here. I'm guessing Avery and many of my readers would prefer for Kerry to renounce the war altogether and call for US withdrawal ASAP.
"The president went back on his word," Kerry said. "I take that personally."
He added: "Evidence is mounting significantly that they made a decision, then framed an argument to support it. I think there are very serious questions about that that remain to be answered."
Unfortunately, while well-meaning, critics are arguably making the same mistake that Kerry's Republican critics have made when they call Kerry a flip-flopper. Kerry voted for the Senate Resolution in October 2002, but opposed the war. The context had changed with the presence of the inspectors and Iraq's compliance.
Once again, however, the context has changed. Kerry opposed the war, but will inherit that very same war. What to do?
Kerry explained his plan for Iraq on his campaign website, in a speech called - "This Moment in Iraq is a Moment of Truth," delivered at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on April 30, 2004.
As complicated as Iraq seems, there are really only three basic options: One, we can continue to do this largely by ourselves and hope more of the same works; Two, we can conclude it’s not doable, pull out and hope against hope that the worst doesn’t happen in Iraq; Or three, we can get the Iraqi people and the world’s major powers invested with us in building Iraq’s future.Agree or disagree, it is a coherent position.
Mistakes have complicated our mission and jeopardized our objective of a stable free Iraq with a representative government, secure in its borders. We may have differences about how we went into Iraq, but we do not have the choice just to pick up and leave—and leave behind a failed state and a new haven for terrorists.
I believe that failure is not an option in Iraq.
Afghanistan was a failed state. Somalia. Lebanon.
Terrorism can thrive in failed states. While terrorists also work and hide in affluent states, these places have served as the training and recruitment ground for Islamic terrorists.
Kerry goes on to recommend internationalizing the security situation on the ground, pulling in forces from other major powers and especially NATO. He wants to work through the UN and America's alliances.
Other nations have a vital interest in the outcome and they must be brought in.Kerry then calls for more financial and technical assistance to Iraq and for a massive training program for Iraqi security forces -- all this again to be accomplished in tandem with other states.
To accomplish this, we must do the hard work to get the world’s major political powers to join in this mission. To do so, the President must lead. He must build a political coalition of key countries, including the UK, France, Russia and China, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, to share the political and military responsibilities and burdens of Iraq with the United States...
The immediate goal is to internationalize the transformation of Iraq, to get more foreign forces on the ground to share the risk and reduce the burden on our own forces. That is the only way to succeed in the mission while ending the sense of an American occupation.
In the end, Kerry answered war critics fairly directly, though he framed it around states like Germany and France:
But why would others join a cause that they did not support in the first place? For one simple reason: it’s in their self-interest. For the Europeans, Iraq’s failure could endanger the security of their oil supplies, further radicalize their large Muslim populations, threaten destabilizing refugee flows, and seed a huge new source of terrorism.As much as I wish the US had never gone to war in Iraq, I'm afraid that Kerry might well be right.
And for Iraq’s neighbors, a civil war in Iraq could draw them in, put moderates in the region on the defensive and radicals on the rise. And a civil war could threaten the regimes in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
These compelling interests have always existed and they must now be the central piece of a diplomatic effort long overdue.
The world simply has to bring genuine security to Iraq. While that has got to include the end of American military occupation, it also has to include many other tangible elements.
Kerry promises to "use every tool of diplomacy and persuasion to bring others along."
Does this make Kerry simply Bush-lite?
No, at minimum there is at least one important difference. Bush is like the used car dealer who already sold you a lemon. You now need another car to provide basic transportion, but you're not going back to the same dealership.
Even the President seems to know this:
"There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again."—Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002Well, maybe he doesn't.