Kerry’s Position on Iraq War Being Distorted by Primary Challenger

There are rare times in which I feel compelled to defend someone for taking actions I disagreed with. One such example is John Kerry’s vote for the Iraq War Resolution. Kerry is now under attack on this issue by a potential challenger for his Senate seat:

U.S. Sen. John Kerry said his motivation for voting to give President Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq in 2002 was based on meetings he had with senior intelligence officials and was meant to be used as a negotiating tool, not a blank battle check.

The junior Massachusetts senator responded to charges made by his new primary challenger, Gloucester attorney Edward O’Reilly, that Kerry’s vote was calculated with the 2004 presidential race in mind. O’Reilly said Kerry has an “inability to stand for anything but himself.”

“It has nothing to do with the decision for war and peace,” Kerry said in an interview with the Times. “I laid out very clearly what I was voting for and what I was not.”

I disagreed with this vote, but also feel it is inaccurate and unfair to evaluate Kerry’s position on the war based upon this vote. Kerry did make clear his positon on the war in his Senate floor statement and in articles in The New York Times and Foreign Affairs. Kerry voted yes based upon promises from George Bush that he would use this authority to seek a diplomatic settlement. While I feel Kerry made a mistake in trusting George Bush on this, this is hardly the same as supporting the war. After it became clear that Bush did not intend to keep his word, Kerry spoke out several times in oppostion to Bush’s policies prior to the onset of the war (in contrast to some Democrats who waited until it was politically popular to oppose the war). Kerry even called for regime change in the United States in protest at the onset of the war and later admitted his vote was a mistake.

Kerry may have made a mistake in trusting George Bush to keep his word, but it was also Kerry who protested going to war from the start, and who correctly predicted the problems we would face by going to war. Despite disagreeing with this vote, I respect John Kerry far more than I resepct a political opportunist who would distort Kerry’s position for political gain.

Update: Power Line repeats the same line, calling the positions of  both Kerry and Hillary Clinton opportunistic. Their simplistic analysis overlooks the considerable difference in Kerry’s position for having made clear the conditions under which war was acceptable and speaking out against going to war before the war began. They also criticize what they see as Republican opportunism, writing, “Now that Republican Senators Lugar, Warner, Voinovich, and Domenici are bailing out on the war, we see the face of Republican opportunism.” Considering that the Democrats need more votes in the Senate, I’m just happy that an increasing number of Republicans are realizing the error in their previous position.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. 1
    Mary Wentworth says:

    “It has nothing to do with the decision for war and peace,” Kerry said in an interview with the Times. “I laid out very clearly what I was voting for and what I was not.”
    But Kerry also told three Boston Globe reporters soon after he cast his vote, “This was a vote for peace, not war.”
    In Robert Shrum’s new book, he says that Kerry’s advisors told Kerry that he would never be president of the United States if he didn’t support Bush on the war.
    Kerry’s idea that he could attach strings to this vote that would force Bush to go the diplomatic route is ludicrous. It was a Yes or No vote. The Senate did not attach any of Kerry’s strings to it.
    John Kerry has a long history of straddling every issue. And the issue of this war is no different. Millions of people knew that the Bush administration was peddling lies to get agreements for this illegal war. Why didn’t John Kerry?
    Where is the evidence that he said that his vote was a mistake? As late as last week, he was still trying to justify it.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I don’t care how Shrum interpreted the situation. Kerry made his position very clear in his Senate floor speech, articles in the New York Times and Foreigh Affairs, and other public statements.

    Kerry’s position is very clear and consistent. He did not straddle the issue. It has become a common tactic of his opponents to take statements out of context and misquote him to claim stuch straddling, but once Kerry’s actual statements are reviewed we get a different picture.

    Kerry stated long ago that his vote was a mistake, after the Downing Street Memos proved that Bush was lying about seeking a diplomatic settlement. He was not trying to justify his vote last week. He was explaining his vote since so many people have distorted it to claim Kerry supported the war, when he was actually against the war.

    As Kerry said, he saw the vote as a vote for peace, not war. This is consistent with everything Kerry said at the time of the vote. He voted to give Bush the diplomatic leverage to get the inspectors back in, in the hopes of avoiding war. Once it was clear that Bush was planning to go to war despite getting the inspectors back in, Kerry spoke out many times against going to war, prior to the onset of the war.

  3. 3
    derrico says:

    If only Kerry had read the full 92 page National Intelligence Estimate, which Sen. Bob Graham pushed his colleagues to read, if only Kerry had used his knowledge of foreign affairs, if only Kerry had remembered Viet Nam, if only Kerry had paid attention to what Bush/Cheney were doing, if only Kerry had seen what was obvious to Sen. Kennedy and to so many others, as well as to millions of us ordinary citizens…. he would never have voted to give anyone any authorization to invade Iraq.

    Since he apparently wasn’t paying attention to any of this, what was he paying attention to? I don’t need Mr. Shrum to come to the conclusion that Kerry was paying attention only to his standing in national polls about likely presidential candidates. Is there really any other explanation?

    All the rest — the statements, the explanations, the “apology” — is worthless.

    If you want deeper historical evidence for Kerry’s waffling on war, look at the two contradictory letters he sent to a constituent in 1991, speaking for and against the first Bush’s Iraq war. The Boston Globe published them side by side and columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote about them.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Kerry was fully aware of the reasons not to go to war. Kerry presented these arguments multiple times before the war. Kerry made it clear he was only giving an aughorization to invade Iraq as a last resort if we were proven to be threatened by WMD. He made a mistake in trusting Bush to use this authorization as he promised, but that is not the same as supporting going to war.

    Jeff Jacoby is hardly a reliable source. It is understandable that Kerry had reservations about going to war until all other avenues were exhausted (as he did with the current war) but also supported that war once underway.

  5. 5
    battlebob says:

    Kerry may have also had it in the back of his mind to vote for the war as a countervote against Howard Dean. Dean came out strongly against the war.
    Dems are worried about being soft on war even though they have more combat vets in Congress then Repubs. Repubs are the true chicken hawks. Except for McCain and Haegel, most sat combat out.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    Agree that Kerry was probably considering the question of Democrats appearing soft on national security, but not specifically about Dean.

    As of October 2002, Dean was not yet a major factor and Kerry would have had no reason to vote based upon him. (Actually, I really don’t think Kerry saw Dean as a serious threat even when Dean was considered the front runner in 2004.) Plus, Dean supported Biden Lugar and gave no indication that he opposed the IWR until months later.

    When the campaign began in its early stages in early 2003, Kerry was originally listed, along with Dean, as an anti-war candidate. It wasn’t until later in the spring of 2003 that Dean was successful in getting people to consider the IWR vote as representing support for the war. (Dean was in the position where he realized that there was not room for two North east liberals, who has essentially the same position on the war, and who were both fiscally conservative. He realized that he had no chance if Kerry remained a front runner, and was temporarily successful in mischaracterizing Kerry as a supporter of the war.)

    Ultimately the IWR vote was a typical Rove trap of dividing the oppositin–and it worked very well. Kerry was one of the few who really understood the nature of the trap and discussed it. He has discussed how he agonized over the vote, and how the only real answers were “yes, but” and “no,but.” Of course I wish he had voted “no, but.” At least he got his “but” in with his Senate floor statement and in articles in the New York Times and Foreign Affairs.

    We saw the problem of having the Democratic candidate vote yes. They twisted that to mean it indicated support for the war, and then when Kerry tried to explain his opposition to the war they successfully labeled him a flip flopper. Unfortunately Dean’s distortion of the IWR made it easier for the Republicans to get away with this, and lots of other liberals helped the Republicans on this.

    However, there was also a downside to voting no. At the time of the vote Bush was giving speaches saying that this was not a vote to go to war. He was promising to seek a diplomatic solution, and only use the authority to go to war if we are threatened. Of course he was lying (as the Downing Street Memos verified). If a Democrat who voted no had been nominated, they would have brought up all the statements that the vote was not a vote to go to war, and characterized a no vote as being unwilling to defend the United States even if we were threatened by imminent attack by WMD.

    Rove’s trap worked really well. The only way around this would have been if the Democrats stood united in saying that this is a false choice. Once Dean made use of the IWR to go after Kerry, Rove was assured of succeeding.

1 Trackbacks

Leave a comment