The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, August 14, 2004

Kerry and the vote on the Iraq resolution - again

Following my August 10 piece on the subject, Slate's William Saletan has offered (August 12) the results of his parsing of the Kerry position - with remarkably little blogospherical comment, that I can see [1].

His piece highlights at the start, usefully, that Bush's counterfactual (Stratham, NH speech, August 6)-
Now, there are some questions that a Commander-in-Chief needs to answer with a clear "yes" or "no." My opponent hasn't answered the question of whether, knowing what we know now, he would have supported going into Iraq.
is quite different from Kerry's counterfactual in response:
Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have.

Of course, Kerry was never asked to vote on the question posed by Bush: all he ever had before him was H J Res 114 - to which he refers in his response.

Saletan, following a GOP video supposedly demonstrating rampant flip-flopping in a series of Kerry statements on the rightness of the war, confuses the two counterfactuals at the start -
Does Kerry now agree with Bush's decision? Would Kerry have gone into Iraq? Would he have voted to give Bush the authorization had Kerry known what he now knows about the absence of WMD and about how Bush would use the authorization?
- and then, mostly, addresses Bush's counterfactual, ie, would Kerry have supported Bush's invasion at the time, knowing there would be no WMD to be found.

(The GOP, naturally, edits the material in the video to suit their case, and Saletan restores some of the cuts for our benefit.)

There seems to be a fair amount of consistency in Kerry's stance, judging by what Saletan produces: Kerry stresses
"heat," "inspections," "process," and cooperation with "allies."

But Saletan glosses over two clear statements from Kerry in support of the war, one of them using the PNAC Mad Mullahs' trigger phrase regime change:
  1. before the Democratic Leadership Council on July 29 2002:
    I agree completely with this administration's goal of a regime change in Iraq.

  2. during the May 3 2003 primary debate in South Carolina:
    I said at the time I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity. But I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm [Saddam].

Saletan comments:
This appears to be the first time Kerry endorses the war as Bush conducted it.

It also appears to be the last.

The rest of the video material quoted by Saletan, as supplemented by outtakes, do tend to support Kerry as majoring on
"heat," "inspections," "process," and cooperation with "allies."

Interestingly, the final quote Saletan gives of Kerry (from his Unity speech on August 5) has him stressing the limited scope he, as senator, had in authorising actions that led to war (emphasis mine):
I voted to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, because had I been president, I would have wanted that authority, because that was the way to enforce the U.N. resolutions and be tough with the prospect of his development of weapons of mass destruction...

But, as I read it, he's not using counterfactual hindsight on WMD here: he's explaining his vote as he made it then, with no knowledge of the actual state of Saddam's WMD holdings or capability.

He seems to have in mind not only
  1. distinguishing the authority for war from the incompetent way Bush used that authority; but also

  2. pleading for future presidential requests made to Congress for similar authorisations not to be coloured by the outcome of the Iraq authorisation.

Kerry, too, contemplates becoming a War President. Merely sound contingency planning, no doubt.

Now, Saletan's exercise, interesting in itself, is unsatisfactory: we really need, to start with, to identify all Kerry's pronouncements, in all fora and media, bearing on the use of force against Iraq. Which I suspect run into at least four figures.

Moreover, it's not just a question of mechanically coding answers; one needs to take account of context; and Kerry's statements are seldom straightforward [2].

As I've seen suggested elsewhere, it is questionable whether there would be any mileage in Kerry being less obscure on the question of his approval of the Iraq invasion: the segment of the population (quite likely including a fair proportion of swing voters) who supported the war but now regret it would not appreciate having their noses rubbed in their own folly by the Dem candidate telling them the war was a mistake [3].

Arguably, then, he's not only fudging because his support of H JRes 114 might easily be characterised as an expression of support for the war (Bush has already done this, of course - at Panama City, FL on August 10).

My concern, in looking at Kerry's handling of the issue, is to see what it reveals of his intentions on the use of force as a tool of foreign policy. In this case, whether his statements on H JRes 14 (valid authorisation, incompetently used) suggest Kerry is carving out a space for a competently executed, liberal version of Bush's failed PNAC plan for US domination of the Middle East, Infinity and Beyond.

In divining an answer to this question, Saletan starts us off on the road, but doesn't really get us very far.

  1. Which may mean an instant CW that the piece is bollocks; or that it is insufficiently partisan for either side to make any use of it.

  2. Complex issues require complex analysis, true; but language can also be used to obscure rather than elucidate. (Duh!) And not every Derrida-esque passage of Kerry is no more convoluted than the subject-matter requires. (My attempt at a Kerry-style Derrida-esque passage...)

  3. This, too, is not a yes/no thing. Sentiment changed over time: a significant tranche of voters opposing the invasion would have changed sides to back our boys. For a good deal of the pre-war period, majorities were found in support of war, but with pre-conditions, such as UN Security Council approval.

    Also, people will wonder what difference it would have made if they'd have opposed, instead of supporting, the war at any particular point; if they arrive at the conclusion (based on the evidence of what was actually achieved by the anti-war movement, such as it was) that it would not have made any difference, that would just lead to a feeling of hopelessness - not the sort of sentiment that a presidential candidate wants to be generating amongst potential supporters!


The Unity conference speech also included Kerry's standard line:
The United States doesn't go to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to.

I've been rather hoping to see a considered analysis of this, but have found none.

On the one hand, one sees it suggested to be a coded rejection of pre-emptive (or preventive) war. On the other, that, if the rule had applied down the years, the US would scarcely have gone to war at all. (Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbor, then I get hazy...).

For another time.

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