Senator John F. Kerry is right to charge the president with “changing his story” about his justifications for the Iraq war. But George W. Bush is not the only Washington politician who has changed his story. So, too, has Senator Kerry.
On October 9, 2002, Senator Kerry made a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate announcing his intent to vote for the congressional resolution on the war. The speech, which has received little scrutiny during this presidential primary season, stands in stark contrast to statements the senator now makes about that vote.
Senator Kerry claims today that he voted for the October 2002 congressional resolution on the Iraq war based on a promise made by the president. The president, the senator said at a presidential debate on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, “had promised to go to the United Nations, to respect the building of an international coalition in truth, to exhaust the remedies of inspections and literally to only go to war as a last resort.”
Senator Kerry also claimed during that debate that he would not have “gone to war the way George Bush did”, but rather he “would have stood up and exhausted the remedies…” The senator has recently repeated these claims on the campaign trail.
But Senator Kerry has not revealed what he himself promised on the floor of the United States Senate when he announced his support for that October Resolution. “In giving the President this authority,” the senator said at that time, “I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days – to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.”
“If he fails to do so,” Senator Kerry continued, “I will be the first to speak out.”
Senator Kerry broke that promise he made to the American people. In the crucial days after the president withdrew his efforts to gain United Nations support for his war and before the president launched his invasion, Senator Kerry remained silent. The president had, indeed, failed to build an international coalition, and yet the senator did not speak out.
And what if he had? What if Senator Kerry had returned to the floor of the United States Senate as the clouds of war loomed and withdrawn his support of the president’s war? What if he had led other Members of Congress at that moment in history in demanding a new congressional debate on whether the president had the authority to launch a unilateral war against Iraq? What if the senator had kept his promise?
We will never know. But as he claims the qualities of leadership to be the next president of the United States, Senator Kerry should be held accountable for the failure to honor the commitment he made when he voted for the October Resolution.
“[T]here is a test as a commander in chief as to when you send young Americans off to war,” Senator Kerry said at that New Hampshire debate. “[Y]ou got to be able to look in the eyes of a family and say you exhausted every possibility and you only sent their son or daughter to die because you had no other choice.”
“I believe George Bush failed that test in Iraq,” the senator continued. “I said so at the time…”
In fact, the senator did not say anything at the time. Like so many of his colleagues in Congress, Senator Kerry remained on the sidelines as the president marched the nation into this reckless war. And, because of that, the senator shares today the burden of responsibility for its consequences.
John C. Bonifaz is an attorney in Boston and the author of 'Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George W. Bush' (NationBooks-NY, January, 2004)