Published on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Kerrys Deceptions on Iraq Threaten His Presidential Hopes
by Stephen Zunes
Only a few months ago, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was generally considered the likely front-runner in a crowded field for the Democratic presidential nomination. A Vietnam combat veteran and a highly-respected veteran legislator, he appeared to have the kind of leadership and political skills needed for the Democrats to recapture the White House.
It now appears, however, that his vote last October authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq may end up costing him his party’s nomination.
With chaos still reigning in Iraq five months into the U.S. occupation, growing casualties among American forces bogged down in increasingly bloody counter-insurgency warfare, and with little prospects for peace and stability for Iraq in the foreseeable future, this vote has come to haunt him.
Anti-war demonstrators have greeted Senator Kerry at many of his rallies. Phone calls to his Capitol Hill office on the subject continue to be overwhelmingly negative. On several occasions, he has come across as defensive when reporters have raised questions about his support of the war.
Yet what may end up hurting the Massachusetts senator more than his pro-war stance is the fact that, in order to justify his vote, he lied about Iraq’s military capabilities.
In a speech on the Senate floor immediately prior to the October vote, Senator Kerry categorically stated that Saddam Hussein was “attempting to develop nuclear weapons.” However, there appears to be no evidence to suggest that Iraq had had an active nuclear program for at least eight to ten years prior to the U.S. invasion. Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in 1998 and subsequently that Iraq's nuclear program appeared to have been completely dismantled.
To justify his claims of an Iraqi nuclear threat, Senator Kerry claimed that “all U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons.” The reality, of course, was that much of the U.S. intelligence community was highly skeptical of claims that Iraq was attempting to acquire nuclear materials.
Indeed, despite unfettered access by IAEA inspectors to possible Iraqi nuclear facilities between this past November and March and exhaustive searching by U.S. occupation forces since then, no trace has been found of the ongoing Iraqi nuclear program that Senator Kerry claimed existed last fall.
In addition, Senator Kerry stated unequivocally that “Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.” He even claimed that most elements of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs “are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” He did not try to explain how this could be possible, given the limited shelf life of such chemical and biological agents and the strict embargo against imports of any additional banned materials that had been in place since 1990.
The Massachusetts senator also asserted that authorizing a U.S. invasion of that oil-rich country was necessary since “These weapons represent an unacceptable threat.”
However, despite inspections by the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) and subsequent searches by U.S. forces, no chemical or biological weapons have been found.
Senator Kerry did not stop there, insisting that “Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents, which could threaten Iraq’s neighbors as well as American forces in the Persian Gulf.”
Again, no such Iraqi UAVs capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons have been found.
In a cynical effort to take advantage of Americans’ post-9/11 fears, Kerry went on to claim that “Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery on a range of vehicles such as bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives which could bring them to the United States homeland.”
Despite repeated calls to his Senate office, no one on Kerry’s staff has been able to answer my questions as to what happened to all these alleged Iraqi weapons and delivery systems that supposedly threatened our national security.
In the months prior to the U.S. invasion, rather than challenging the lies of the Bush Administration, Senator Kerry rushed to its defense, claiming that “The President laid out a strong, comprehensive, and compelling argument why Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs are a threat to the United States and the international community.”
The reality, however, was that President Bush’s case was incredibly weak and was repeatedly challenged by leading arms control experts, including current and former UN inspectors.
Some supporters of Senator Kerry insist that he did not knowingly lie to the American people, but was fooled by exaggerated claims of Iraq’s alleged military prowess by Bush Administration officials.
However, John Kerry is one of the most intelligent, well-studied and hard-working members of the U.S. Senate. One did not have to be a genius to have been able to recognize that the Bush administration’s claims regarding Iraqi military capabilities were phony from the beginning. Nor was it a secret that most independent strategic analysts observed how administration statements on Iraq’s threat were inaccurate and misleading. Indeed, a number of such researchers and scholars myself included had provided the senator’s office with more balanced assessments regarding Iraqi armaments and military capabilities.
Senator Kerry could still have supported the war without being so categorical about Iraq’s alleged threat. He could have said, “I don’t know if Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction, but given the regime’s pattern of deception and what is at stake, I believe the risks of not going to war are greater than going to war.” While this would not have placated many anti-war activists, at least he would not have been caught lying.
As a result, it should not be surprising that anti-war presidential candidate Howard Dean despite his calls for increased military spending and his strident support for the right-wing Israeli government has gained the support of so many liberal Democrats who would have otherwise supported the Massachusetts senator. Much to the surprise of the pundits, the former Vermont governor has recently surpassed Senator Kerry in fundraising and in some public opinion polls.
Kerry’s vote in support for what most legal scholars see as an illegitimate war has raised serious questions regarding his commitment to international law and the U.S. Constitution. Given his apparent dishonesty in justifying the war, it also raises questions should he actually become president as to what additional lies John Kerry would be willing to tell the American people in order to justify possible future U.S. invasions of other countries.
Democrats have to wonder whether it makes sense to throw out the dishonest warmonger currently in the White House only to replace him with what many now see as a dishonest warmonger from their own ranks. As a result, it is likely that by the time the primaries come around, the voters will opt not for the former front-runner Kerry, but a candidate who will not abuse the trust of the American people in order to pursue his militarist agenda.
Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco.