The Fog Of War

John Kerry, Wesley Clark
AP
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This commentary from The New Republic was written by Andrew Sullivan.



The foreign policy views of Wesley Clark and John Kerry deserve special consideration because both men represent what is supposed to be a foreign policy realism among Democrats. They're not Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich or Al Sharpton. But that makes Sunday night's rhetorical cheapness, nitpicking, and Tuesday-morning quarterbacking all the more frustrating.

Take Kerry's response to the following question:

Fox News Moderator Carl Cameron: Senator Kerry, I want to direct the next question to you, in part because you voted for the Iraq resolution but have also opposed the $87 billion. To many, that speaks to an inconsistency that your candidacy has been criticized by, for having a difficult to explain position on the Iraq war.

Is it inconsistent for you to support the resolution and not the reconstruction money?

KERRY: Not in the least. In fact, it is absolutely consistent, because what I voted for was to hold Saddam Hussein accountable but to do it right.

But the Iraq Resolution was clearly designed to sanction war if Saddam Hussein didn't fully and immediately comply with U.N. resolution, i.e. fully disarm or account for those weapons he had not accounted for. The congressional resolution wasn't some generic statement designed merely to put pressure on Saddam. It was a declaration of conditional war. Everyone understood that at the time. Kerry is spinning history to pretend otherwise.

KERRY: This president has done it wrong every step of the way. He promised that he would have a real coalition. He has a fraudulent coalition.

Fraudulent? How was fraud involved? The United States was quite open to anyone participating in a coalition of the willing to topple Saddam and remove the threat from WMDs. The invitation was open, candid, and answered by many countries, including several who are longtime allies of the U.S., notably Britain, Australia, Japan, and Poland. The Bush administration didn't condition war against Saddam on getting a universal coalition, or even on getting a precise and blanket UN sanction. So why the term "fraudulent"? Is Kerry implying that the alliance that formed against Nazi Germany -- Britain, the U.S., Australia -- was also somehow fraudulent?

And is it prudent for a potential future president to belittle America's firmest allies in this way? The best gloss on his remarks is that Kerry only voted to authorize war because he believed that everything would go right for the United States, that no one would object at the Security Council, that Saddam would suddenly comply, or some other such Pollyannish scenario. If that's how he voted, then he lacks very basic common sense about how the world actually operates.

KERRY: He promised he would go through the United Nations and honor the inspections process. He did not.

In September 2002, president Bush directly went to the United Nations and made an appeal to enforce UN resolutions with regard to Iraq. He supported the last attempt of UN inspectors to win a last-minute agreement from Saddam for transparent disarmament. He won a 15-0 UN Security Council vote on UN Resolution 1441, sanctioning dire consequences if Iraq did not comply with inspections. Kerry's statement is therefore a bold and simple untruth.

KERRY: He promised he would go to war as a last resort, words that mean something to me as a veteran. He did not.

Well, what does Kerry mean as a last resort? Saddam was obliged by the truce in 1991 to abandon all WMD programs, planned and actual. He didn't. As the Kay report shows, he maintained a structure for the research and manufacture of WMDs all the way through the 1990s. He refused to comply with UN inspections or to account for the stockpiles the UN had documented in his possession. After twelve years of sanctions, after several months of final efforts to get Saddam to comply, after yet another UN resolution, Saddam still balked. If this was not a "last resort," what is?

KERRY: He broke every promise. He's done it wrong.

And he's even doing this wrong, because what he ought to be doing is internationalizing this effort -- going to the United Nations, asking the United Nations to take part in a larger way, which they would be willing to do if he was prepared to shift real authority to them.

You have to take the target off of American troops. You have to get rid of the sense of American occupation. And that's the only way to invite other countries to be part of this.

Kerry seems unaware that the United States has been trying doggedly (and with some success) to get other countries to provide troops for the transition to post-totalitarian Iraqi government. He doesn't mention president Bush's address to the United Nations requesting help. He also seems unaware that the UN is both unwilling and unable to mount the kind of security operation now needed. They could not even defend their own compound, let alone secure the entire country. As for taking the target off American troops, this is a war. Of course American troops are targets for the enemy. The difference between now and three years ago is that American troops -- and not civilians -- are now the main object in the war on terror, a war that Kerry seems all too eager to call off. Later in the debate, Kerry argued exactly that: that he would end the war on terror as it has been waged by the Bush administration and return to the methods of the Clinton administration. He said: "I believe Americans want somebody who can defend the security of the United States. And this war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement operation. And the American people deserve somebody who can lead them to do it correctly and make us safer and stronger in the process." That's a clear distinction. And it's one that will be central in the coming election.

Clark didn't fare much better:

CAMERON: General Clark, your campaign implies that your combat experience gives you a better understanding of the implications of war, but your political message is confusing.

You have not only praised the president that you now want to defeat but, according to the Arab Institute Voting Guide, in February of 2003, you said this, quote: "Saddam Hussein has these weapons, and so, you know, we're going to go ahead and do this, and the rest of the world has got to get with us," unquote.

But you have also so far refused to take a firm position on the president's request for more money. Can you tell us exactly where you do stand?

CLARK: I'd be happy to tell you where I stand. I think I've been very consistent from the beginning.

Right after 9/11, this administration determined to do bait and switch on the American public. President Bush said he was going to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. Instead, he went after Saddam Hussein. He doesn't have either one of them today.

The compression of ideas in that last statement by General Clark speaks volumes about the Democratic Party's approach to foreign policy and the war on terror. Clark implies that the Bush team deliberately switched attention away from Afghanistan in order to go after Iraq -- "right after 9/11." But the months after 9/11 were consumed with the war against the Taliban, a war successfully implemented with minimal casualties. There was no "bait-and-switch" "right after 9/11." Why would the Bush team want to focus on Iraq because they hadn't found Osama bin Laden when they didn't know at the time that they wouldn't find and eliminate bin Laden? It makes no sense.

In fact, the war against Iraq was designed to complement the war against the Taliban, to show that the United States would no longer tolerate the possible nexus of terrorists with outlaw regimes building WMDs. You may disagree with that policy, but to argue it was a cynical "bait and switch" deal makes a mockery of history. So too is the simplistic notion that the war on terror was a simple attempt to get rid of two men -- Saddam and OBL -- rather than two dangerous regimes in Kabul and Baghdad. But the administration has accomplished both objectives, while still obviously struggling to win the fragile peace in both countries, a peace that Kerry and Clark refuse to finance.

CLARK: I've been against this war from the beginning. I was against it last summer, I was against it in the fall, I was against it in the winter, I was against it in the spring. And I'm against it now. It was an unnecessary war. There was no imminent threat.

No member of the administration used the term "imminent threat" to describe Saddam Hussein's Iraq. No one. In his 2003 State of the Union, the president based his argument for war on the notion that we should not wait until the threat is imminent before we take measures to defend ourselves. Clark is repeating a lie that has been thoroughly exposed on the Internet and elsewhere, a lie that even "The New York Times" has stopped repeating.

CLARK: On the other hand, just like Reverend Sharpton said, Bush got all our -- the president got all of our troops out there, got them poised, committed the United States to this thing. What he didn't do was he didn't use diplomacy. He didn't use leadership. He didn't bring the rest of the world with it. He should've. There was time to do it. There was no imminent threat. And there is no excuse for his failure of leadership.

Clark's criterion seems to be that no war can ever be waged by the United States unless the entire rest of the planet is in agreement. Is this his real position? If so, he needs to say so candidly. It amounts to giving the French and Russians a veto over American foreign policy, in an era after war has been declared on the United States by radical Islam.

Watching this debate only confirms the wisdom of Donna Brazile's comments to the Associated Press over the weekend: "There's a huge credibility gap our party has on national security -- not because we don't have enough military medals, but because we have no plan of action." Amen.

Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor at TNR.

By Andrew Sullivan
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