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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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Kerry explains the war resolution vote to Imus - kinda

Scarcely breaking news - coming across the transcript of Kerry's segment on Tuesday's Don Imus show, I naturally look to see how he does.

Now, it's an artefact of transcribed speech - and of text written for speaking aloud - that it is harder to follow read off the page than listened to [1]. But Kerry is appallingly hard going.

And Imus, who I'd thought was a Kerry supporter, is not cheerleading [2]. Little wonder, with the extraordinary pantechnicon answers that the big man inflicts on his listeners [3].

Eventually, we get onto Kerry's vote on the resolution H JRes 114 authorising the use of force against Iraq, and his infamous Grand Canyon explanation [4]:
IMUS: You said, Senator Kerry, a while back, not that long ago -- and I assume you meant all of the things you're talking about now, but you said knowing what you know now, which would include just what you've been talking about, you would have still voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, which doesn't make any sense to me.

KERRY: Yes, it actually does make sense.

IMUS: Explain it. Help me out here.

KERRY: Let me explain it to you. I felt in 1998, and I said that Clinton ought to have the power, the authority to use force, in order to force Saddam Hussein to have inspectors, to be able to disarm. The only way to get the inspectors in was to be tough, to have the threat of force and the authority to use force. I was prepared to use the force if he didn't do what he needed to do. But I warned the president, as did many people, take the time to build up the international coalition, don't rush to war, because the most difficult part is not winning the military part of the war; it's winning the peace. The president ignored that. And what he basically did was cut off the inspection process and rush to war. Now, I believe that Saddam Hussein was sufficiently duplicitous and, you know, couldn't obviously -- you don't trust him, so you needed that threat to be able to make certain you had the inspectors and were going through a process to hold him accountable. But we could have held him accountable. We had two-thirds of that country in a no-fly zone on day one. And the fact is that what the president wanted to do was just get in there and go do it. And he did it in such a rushed way that he ignored what the consequences would be. It was wrong to rush to war without a better understanding of what you'd confront in a hostile, postwar Iraq. It was wrong to rush to war without a better understanding of Iraqi nationalism and Iraqi tribal separatism. And it was wrong to have no plan except the initial military victory. So when they won, they didn't even guard the ammunition dumps, which now are the weapons that are being used against our soldiers.

That's 313 words in that last answer. Which fail to obscure - in print, at least - that it is not an answer at all.

Imus has a fair question: on the hypothesis that you know in advance that Saddam has no WMD, why vote to allow the use of force against him? It's obviously counterfactual in two ways, one weak, the other stronger [5]: first, Kerry did not happen to know at the time of the vote that Saddam had no WMD; and second, there was never any possibility that Kerry could know. No one outside Saddam and a few henchmen knew this.

But, as a Yale man and nuanced kind of guy, this kind of counterfactual is well within the grasp of his reasoning. He surely knows exactly what Imus is driving at.

And proceeds to answer a different question (or, perhaps, several).

I've yet to see Imus' question answered anywhere - let alone by Kerry or one of his surrogates. Perhaps, after the election, someone from the campaign could satisfy our curiosity on the point.

(The next part of the interview deals with Kerry's plan for Iraq. There's good reason why Kerry should not be tied down to specifics; but he should surely be able to explain himself more convincingly than this.)

The debates promise to be purgatorial.

  1. I'm no expert in either psychology or linguistics; but it seems to me that not only do the rules of syntax differ as between the spoken and written language; but the method by which the brain processes the language also differs markedly according as the text is read or heard.

  2. His opening gag:
    IMUS: Where's Edwards?

    KERRY: Edwards is in -- well, he was in Oregon last night, and he's in West Virginia today. He's campaigning hard.

    IMUS: I wondered if he was still on the ticket. We haven't heard from him.

    KERRY: No, he's doing great...

    Now, of course the guy's joshing. But he could josh a tad harder for the ticket.

  3. British readers of a certain age will recall Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game, a quiz the winner of which was sat in front of a conveyor-belt which passed various items before him; then, all the things he could remember in thirty seconds he could take home.

    Kerry at times seems to be similarly under the gun.

  4. Pieces of August 10, August 14, and August 26.

  5. The Kerry could not have known is not strong in the same way as, say, folks not knowing today the name of the 2004 World Series winning team. The information on Saddam's WMD existed when Kerry voted. But it was clearly not information that, with due diligence, Kerry could have found out at the time.

    "I don't even think I'm explaining it well." "You're explaining it a lot, though."

MORE (September 20)

I dredged from my subconscious having read something about Hillary Clinton's - infinitely superior - answer to the H J Res 114 question. Not bookmarked, natch, and because of the complete and utter fuckitude of Mr Google when presented with gist searches, a good hour, on and off, wasted with tracking down the wretched thing.

The exchange I was thinking of was, it seems, part of Clinton's August 29 appearance on Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT:...Jay Rockefeller, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was on this program a few weeks ago and this is what he said: "...we in Congress would not have authorized [the Iraq] war--we would not have authorized that war--with 75 votes if we knew what we know now."

Do you agree with him?

SEN. CLINTON: There would not have been a vote, Tim. There would never have been a vote to the Congress presented by the administration. There would have been no basis for it. But we are where we are, and what I think we have to do now try to understand the series of miscalculations which for the first time ever the president admitted in an interview last week, have occurred which have rendered our situation more dangerous, less safe, and have put back the effort to try to stabilize and democratize Iraq. I believe with all my heart that, you know, we have to have new leadership at the highest level of our government in order to be successful in the strategy we have embarked upon in Iraq. No matter how we got there, and as I said, we wouldn't have even had a vote if all the facts had been available.

An answer, finally, that actually makes sense! (And a plug for the candidate, natch.)

Speaking of which, Russert makes the obvious compare and contrast:
MR. RUSSERT: But John Kerry said he would vote again today for authorization, even knowing what he knows now. You don't agree with that.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, but I think the point John was making was the same one I was making, that we don't have a choice to have hindsight. You know, I have said many times, I think on this program, that I don't regret giving the president authority based on what we knew at the time, but I regret deeply the way he's used it.

So convoluted and confusing was Kerry's answer that she has to qualify her answer with an I think! Deciphering meaning in Kerry's answer needs a few document examiners or something...

(Was this the start of Hill's 2008 campaign? Certainly seems to be plenty of buyer's remorse in the Dem camp - the cries of About time! over Kerry's New York University speech today on Iraq, for instance.)

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