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Even a flawed Kerry beats the alternative
by Jay Bookman
Atlantic Journal-Constitution
September 16, 2004

On Oct. 11, 2002, U.S. Sen. John Kerry voted in favor of a resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war against Iraq. That decision has haunted Kerry ever since, as it should. With that vote, a man who learned firsthand about the tragedy of fighting an ill-conceived war with no clear-cut goals agreed to commit another generation to another such war.

Today, Kerry claims that the only reason he voted to authorize war was to strengthen the president's hand in negotiating with Iraq. As Kerry points out, Bush was publicly insisting back then that he had made no decision to go to war, and in fact would do everything possible to avoid it.

But if Kerry truly did take Bush at his word, as he now claims, then this campaign is for naught because he is too big a fool to serve as president.

Even at the time, it was absolutely clear that Bush was dead set on ousting Saddam Hussein by force. All of Bush's public talk about negotiations and working with the United Nations was so much window-dressing, a transparent and in the end unsuccessful effort to woo international support for a war he was already intent on fighting. Kerry had to know that.

That says something about the Democratic candidate, and it's not flattering. In fact, while an enormous amount of ink and air time has been wasted rehashing what Bush and Kerry did during the Vietnam War, the ongoing war in Iraq provides voters a far more accurate guide to their individual capabilities and weaknesses, and what they may do in the future.

We can never know exactly what thought process led to Kerry's vote on the Iraq war, but it is possible to indulge in informed conjecture. First, Kerry has said that he saw Saddam as a regional threat that eventually would have to be confronted. Second, he could not conceive that the Bush administration would bungle the operation as badly as it has.

And third, by the time the Senate vote took place, the Bush administration had whipped the American people into a major panic attack about Iraqi nukes and unmanned aerial vehicles, and Kerry wasn't about to buck that tide. He understood all too well that if the coming invasion proved even moderately successful, an anti-war vote would be a political liability.

That is not a profile in political courage. It suggests a man with a realistic outlook on the world, but also a man guided by calculation even on a vote of moral consequence. If the conservative assault on Kerry as a waffler has been effective, it's in part because it contains a degree of truth.

However, if Kerry is guilty of acquiescing to the worst American foreign-policy decision in the nation's history, his opponent is responsible for actually making that tragic decision. In an admittedly difficult first term, Bush has proved to be a man of limited insight and experience, shortcomings that make him easily manipulated by those around him. Tragically for this country and the world, that includes Vice President Dick Cheney and others who believe that in the U.S. military, they have a tool by which to transform the world as they see fit.

It's important to listen to what the Bush administration is really promising in this campaign, because on this point they are being relatively honest. They not only claim that our invasion of Iraq has been a success, they also celebrate it as a model for similar operations in the future. Conversely, their critique of Kerry as insufficiently aggressive is based on the very real fact that he now sees Iraq not as a model to be repeated, but as a disaster to be avoided.

That leaves voters with a clear choice: Those who believe that invading Iraq has harmed rather than enhanced our nation's security should cast a vote for Kerry, who now shares that sentiment. Those who see Iraq as a model for future operations should vote to re-elect the president. However, they should also understand that with so much of our manpower committed to Iraq for years to come, the U.S. military will be able to take on new commitments only if it is significantly expanded. And that probably means a draft.

After all, if transforming the world through our military is truly our goal, it can't be done on the cheap.

Posted: September 27, 2004


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