Saturday, July 31, 2004

A GOP Documentary Attacks Kerry on the War

The GOP is learning quickly. They just released their own documentary of Kerry's statements about Iraq during the primary campaign, which takes many of Kerry's quotes out of context in an attempt to portray him as having changed his position on the Iraq war for political expedient reasons. Click on the TV to view the documentary.

In all fairness, I do think Kerry made a mistake in trying to moderate his message regarding his support for the war during the primary. It didn't change any Democrats' opinions of him. We all knew where he stood, and where he still stands. Characterizing himself as anything other than a duped supporter of the war is disingenuous and never won him any support. All he did was leave himself open this sort of attack.

He should have anticipated this and refused to be baited. That said, we also know that Kerry didn't have a problem with taking the war to Iraq very aggressively. What he had a problem with - and which has been his consistent position since the begining of the war - is that Bush failed to explore the options and engage a real coalition to take on the task.

Kerry knows that we likely could have avoided war with a continuation of the inspections; Bush didn't want to. We likely could have inspired a coup in Iraq to depose Saddam; Bush didn't want to. We could have had the world at our backs, instead of on our necks, when we rolled into Iraq; Bush didn't want to. Bush's purposes weren't served except by an effectively unilateral military invasion leaving us, and our bulldog lapdogs, the British, as the pre-eminent military force in Iraq, in a position to install a proper puppet government to serve Bush's purposes. Nothing less would have served.

What Kerry failed to appreciate at the begining of the war is Bush's willingness to damage the national interest for political gain. Kerry assumed, as did so many, that Bush's purpose was to enhance American security. It wasn't. Kerry, like many others, was unable to concieve of an American President who simply lied to the American people about his strategic objectives in starting a war.

Kerry wanted to support the President because he assumed that the President's purpose was transparent, and his goals honorable. It was only after the President's motives were proven to be suspect, and it became clear that Bush was simply lying about his Administration's strategic objectives in Iraq, that Kerry began to criticize the "how" of the march to war.

He's right to do so. He's also probably right not to go any further than that. The tragic truth about our culture and our media is that peace candidates are seldom welcome in American politics. It is a more viable political strategy to express doubt about the personal veracity and honor of the President, and to critique the way in which the war was started to signal your sympathies, but to do nothing overt until after you are President. Then you are in a position to end the war, and there is little anyone can do to stop you. But if you try to fashion a case for political case for peace, our political system will almost certainly destroy you.

I certainly hope I'm right about Kerry's strategy. It would be sickening to see a Democrat who was sincerely in support of this obviously dishonorable war. That is precisely why Lieberman now disgusts so many; he seems to truly believe in a cause which is quite transparently not in the national interest. He seems intent on exploiting the political force of war even more enthusiastically than Bush. Kerry, on the other hand, seeks to reassure Americans that his will be a muscular and unstinting security policy, but he belies that message with an undertone which is deeply skeptical about the potential for the misuse of America's great power.

Is Kerry's security policy nuanced? Yes. Can that be interpreted as being on both sides of the issue? Perhaps. But you really have to work at it. Characterizing Kerry as inconsistent on this issue takes work and selective reading of his statements. The GOP's critique is well fashioned, because in a sense it is true. Kerry is ambivalent about this war. He is right to be. Many of us are. Many people are exactly in Kerry's position. He is an honorable man and a patriot. He wants to help defend the vital national interests of the nation. But when there is a President in office who is absolutely contemptuous of the national interest, completely incompetent in his judgments, and absolutely devoted to pursuing his political agenda at the cost of the nation's treasure, reputation, highest ideals, and even the lives of its soldiers, how does one follow the path of patriotism? The patriot has to step with utmost caution and do some fancy footwork to stay on the path of honor. Opposing an unfit and dishonorable President, and all his works, while upholding the national interest, the nation's honor, and above all, standing firm for the citizens who are giving their lives for this President's lies is a subtle dance, indeed. It should not surprise us that John Kerry's positions on the war are nuanced. What impresses me is that he can express his principles as clearly as he does.

I am not an appologist for John Kerry's security policy. I am opposed root and branch to this war. But I do admire his determination to do what is right in such difficult circumstances. A lesser man would be tempted to out-jingo the jingoist (see Lieberman). But I believe, and I trust that the young man who saw the human cost which war exacts from friend and foe alike still lives and breathes inside John Kerry. If that man does still exist, help is, indeed, on the way.

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