As casualties mount and disorder continues in Iraq, and as the lies that were put forward to garner support of the invasion are exposed, Massachusetts senator John Kerry and his supporters have desperately sought to defend his decision to back the U.S. invasion and occupation. Their failure to make a convincing case may spell trouble for Senator Kerry’s dreams of capturing the White House in November.
Senator Kerry, like President Bush, believes that while it is okay for the United States and a number of its regional allies to possess a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, countries the United States does not like must be prevented, by military force if necessary, from doing the same. And Senator Kerry – like President Bush – apparently believes that unilateral military intervention, not comprehensive arms control treaties, is the way to deal with the threat of proliferation.
And, if the country targeted for invasion does not really have such weapons, Senator Kerry – like President Bush – will simply claim that they do anyway.
Back in October 2002, when Senator Kerry voted to grant President Bush a blank check to make war, he tried to scare the American public into thinking that such an invasion was essential to the defense of the United States. Despite a lack of credible evidence, Kerry categorically declared that “Iraq has chemical and biological weapons” and even claimed that most elements of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs were “larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Furthermore, Kerry asserted that Iraq was “attempting to develop nuclear weapons,” backing up this accusation by claiming that “all U.S. intelligence experts agree” with such an assessment. He also alleged 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.”
Every single one of these claims, no less than similar claims by President Bush, was false. Despite this, however, Senator Kerry and his supporters somehow want the American public to trust him enough to elect him as the next president of the United States.
Senator Kerry and his supporters claim that he was fooled by exaggerated reports about Iraq’s military prowess from the administration. However, there were other senators who had access to the same information as Kerry who voted against going to war. Furthermore, former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter personally briefed Senator Kerry prior to his vote on how Iraq did not have any dangerous WMD capability; he also personally gave the senator – at his request – an article from the respected journal Arms Control Today making the case that Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed. Members of Senator Kerry’s staff have acknowledged that the senator had access to a number of credible reports challenging the administration’s tall tales regarding the alleged Iraqi threat.
Should Senator Kerry win his party’s nomination, then, it will show that the Democrats – just like the Republicans – have no problems with rewarding a politician who lied about a foreign country’s military capabilities in order to justify invading it.
In failing to apologize for lying about Iraq’s military threat, Senator Kerry and his supporters – like President Bush and his supporters – have demonstrated their belief that the United States has the right to invade a Third World country on the far side of the globe simply on the suspicion that they might possess certain dangerous weapons and delivery systems that could possibly be used against us.
And Senator Kerry was not interested in people learning the truth. During the summer of 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on Iraq’s alleged military threat which only invited witnesses who would argue that Iraq was somehow a danger to U.S. national security. Kerry – one of the senior Democrats on the committee – ignored thousands of phone calls and emails encouraging him to invite Ritter and other witnesses who would challenge those who were falsely insisting that Iraq had a dangerous stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.
Senator Kerry, no less than President Bush, simply did not want dissenting views to be heard.
Senator Kerry and his supporters have also tried to justify his October 2002 vote by claiming that it was not because he believed that the United States should actually take over that oil-rich nation by military force, but because he felt it was necessary to force Saddam Hussein into allowing the United Nations inspectors back into Iraq.
This rationale is also false: Senator Kerry's vote to authorize military force against Iraq was cast on October 11. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had agreed to allow UN inspectors to return without conditions on September 16, nearly four weeks earlier.
In fact, on August 28, the Bush Administration stated that they would seek the ouster of the Iraqi government regardless of whether Iraq allowed weapons inspectors back in. On September 18, the administration formally rejected Iraq’s offer to allow the United Nations unfettered access to the country and instead called for “regime change.” On September 20, Bush publicly presented his new strategic doctrine of pre-emptive invasions of foreign countries.
In other words, Kerry knew that his vote to authorize U.S. military force was an endorsement of the Bush Doctrine that had nothing to do with whether or not Iraq allowed the United Nations to enforce its requirements for disarmament.
Kerry and his supporters claim he does not really reject multilateralism and international law. They note that, in voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Kerry stated at that time that he expected President Bush “To work with the United Nations Security Council” and “our allies . . . if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.” He then promised that if President Bush failed to do so, “I will be the first to speak out.”
However, Senator Kerry broke that promise. When President Bush abandoned his efforts to gain United Nations Security Council authorization for the war in late February 2003 and pressed forward with plans for the invasion without a credible international coalition, Kerry remained silent.
When President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution in which he declared that the invasion was “lawful and fully authorized by the Congress” and that he “commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President . . . in the conflict with Iraq.”
Some have tried to defend Kerry’s votes by saying he was simply naïve, a rather odd defense of one of the most intelligent, knowledgeable, experienced and hard-working members of the U.S. Senate. Even if this more forgiving interpretation were correct, however, it still raises serious questions.
As Truthout’s William Rivers Pitt described it, “Liberal base voters never trusted George W. Bush from the beginning, and believed in their hearts that he was approaching the Iraq situation with bad intentions. The fact that Kerry trusted him, and trusted him enough to ignore Senator Robert Byrd’s dire warnings of constitutional abrogation of Congressional responsibilities which was inherent in the resolution, makes it hard for those voters to trust Kerry.”
Senator Byrd introduced a resolution in the fall of 2002 clarifying that authorizing an invasion of Iraq would not alter the Constitutional authority to declare war and that no additional authority not directly related to a clear threat of imminent, sudden and direct attack on the United States could be granted to the president unless Congress authorized it. Senator Kerry, perhaps in anticipation of possibly becoming the next president and not wanting the legislative branch interfering with his right to invade other countries, voted “no.”
“Every nation has the right to act preemptively if it faces an imminent and grave threat,” declared Senator Kerry. Furthermore, Kerry insisted that Iraq posed such an “unacceptable threat” because of the “weapons of mass destruction” and sophisticated weapons systems that he and Bush falsely claimed that Iraq possessed, and therefore the United States had the right to invade and occupy that country.
As a result, there is little reason to hope, that, as president, Kerry won’t launch invasions of other countries by making similar false claims that their governments are “an imminent and grave threat” to the United States.
As an alternative to authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq unilaterally, some Democratic senators put forward an amendment in October 2002 which would have allowed for U.S. military action to disarm Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction and weapons systems pursuant to any future UN Security Council resolution authorizing such military actions. Senator Kerry voted against it. In doing so, Senator Kerry not only tacitly acknowledged that it was not really any potential Iraqi weapons that concerned him, but he was willing to ignore U.S. obligations under the United Nations Charter.
Indeed, Senator Kerry attacked former Vermont governor Howard Dean – his previous major rival for the Democratic presidential nomination – for arguing that a genuine international coalition should have been established before the United States invaded Iraq. Kerry claimed that such multilateralism advocated by Dean “Cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else” since it would “permit a veto over when American can or cannot act.” Dean’s call for the United States to work in broad coalitions, insisted Kerry, is “little more that a pretext for doing nothing.”
Like President Bush and his supporters, Senator Kerry and his supporters appear to believe that raising such questions about pre-emptive war is indicative of a lack of commitment to the country’s national security.
The Democrats are badly mistaken if they think that the “electability” of a Democrat who can defeat President Bush in November is enhanced by nominating someone who essentially supports the same illegal and dangerous policies.
For there are millions of voters who would have been willing to actively campaign and vote for Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark or any other Democrat who opposed the invasion, but who have too much respect for the U.S. Constitution and the UN Charter to support someone like John Kerry. Should Senator Kerry get the nomination, these voters will raise the legitimate question as to why Americans should bother to defeat President Bush in November if he will simply be replaced by someone who essentially supports the same reckless foreign policy agenda?
The outcome of nominating the pro-war Senator Kerry, then, could be the same as when the Democrats chose the pro-war vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, as their presidential nominee back in 1968: by alienating the party’s anti-war majority, it could make possible a Republican victory in November.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco.