Fact checkers at their best provide a very useful service. However, putting a label of Factchecker on the works of a columnist does not automatically make them a credible source. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post loves to award Pinocchios for statements he considers false (or, as is often the case, disagrees with). His assessments are frequently not supported by the facts. At times even his own newspaper has printed evidence contradicting stands taken by Kessler. He once again ignored most of the pertinent facts in claiming John Kerry was lying when saying he opposed the Iraq War.
The confusion on Kerry’s view on the war stemmed from the primary battle in which Howard Dean sought to position himself as an opponent of the war and Kerry as a supporter, despite the two holding essentially the same view. Dean did this by turning the 2002 vote into a sole litmus test when the issue was actually far more complicated.
To understand Kerry’s view, it is first important to look at his statement at the time of the vote:
“My vote was cast in a way that made it very clear, Mr. President, I’m voting for you to do what you said you’re going to do, which is to go through the U.N. and do this through an international process. If you go unilaterally, without having exhausted these remedies, I’m not supporting you. And if you decide that this is just a matter of straight pre-emptive doctrine for regime-change purposes without regard to the imminence of the threat, I’m not going to support you.”
At the same time Bush was claiming that the vote was not necessarily a vote to go to war. Bush said this about the vote: “Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean some.”
Bush was probably not being honest here and Kerry should not have voted yes (as he later admitted) but this vote when interpreted in light of Kerry’s statements on the vote, is not evidence of support for the war. It is necessary to look at additional statements to clarify this. Kerry wrote this in an op-ed in The New York Times at the time of the vote:
For the sake of our country, the legitimacy of our cause and our ultimate success in Iraq, the administration must seek advice and approval from Congress, laying out the evidence and making the case. Then, in concert with our allies, it must seek full enforcement of the existing cease-fire agreement from the United Nations Security Council. We should at the same time offer a clear ultimatum to Iraq before the world: Accept rigorous inspections without negotiation or compromise. Some in the administration actually seem to fear that such an ultimatum might frighten Saddam Hussein into cooperating. If Saddam Hussein is unwilling to bend to the international community’s already existing order, then he will have invited enforcement, even if that enforcement is mostly at the hands of the United States, a right we retain even if the Security Council fails to act. But until we have properly laid the groundwork and proved to our fellow citizens and our allies that we really have no other choice, we are not yet at the moment of unilateral decision-making in going to war against Iraq.
Bush failed to meet the criteria Kerry clearly set at the time of the vote under which he would support going to war.
Salon later asked Kerry about the vote in an interview on May 28, 2004:
SALON: According to recent polls, more than 50 percent of the American public now believes that the war in Iraq has not been worth the cost. Do you agree with that assessment?
KERRY: I’ve always believed that the president went to war in a way that was mistaken, that he led us too rapidly into war, without sharing the cost, without sharing the risk, without building a true international coalition. He broke his promises about going as a last resort. I think that was a mistake. There was a right way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and a wrong way. He chose the wrong way.
SALON: But you voted in October 2002 to give Bush the authority to use force in Iraq. Was that vote a mistake?
KERRY: No. My vote was the right vote. If I had been president, I would have wanted that authority to leverage the behavior that we needed. But I would have used it so differently than the way George Bush did.
SALON: Would there have been a war in Iraq if you had been president?
KERRY: I can’t tell you that. If Saddam Hussein hadn’t disarmed and all the world had decided that he was not living up to the standards, who knows? You can’t answer that hypothetical. But I can tell you this. I would never have rushed the process in a way that undoes the meaning of going to war “as a last resort.”
SALON: And that’s what you thought you were authorizing — war as a last resort?
KERRY: Absolutely. You know, we got a set of promises: We’re going to build an international coalition, we’re going to exhaust the remedies of the U.N., respect that process and go to war as a last resort. Well, we didn’t.
KERRY: And not only [did we] not go to war as a last resort, they didn’t even make the plans for winning the peace. They disregarded them. They disregarded [U.S. Army General Eric] Shinseki’s advice, disregarded Colin Powell’s advice, disregarded the State Department’s plan. The arrogance of this administration has cost Americans billions of dollars and too many lives.
Kerry spoke out against going to war many times in the months between the vote and the onset of the war. In a speech at Georgetown before the onset of the Iraq War:
“Mr. President, do not rush to war,” said Kerry, whose speech marked him as the most skeptical about war of the top-tier contenders for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.
While calling for the United Nations to intensify pressure on Iraq to disarm, Kerry urged Bush to give more time to the U.N. inspections process that the administration has increasingly condemned as inadequate.
“The United States should never go to war because it wants to; the United States should go to war because we have to,” Kerry said at Georgetown University. “And we don’t have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.”
While his vote could create confusion as to his stand, Kerry’s statements leading up to the war showed clear opposition. When Bush did invade, Kerry protested calling for regime change at home, again showing clear opposition to the war. Kessler needs to look at all the facts before rushing to award Pinocchios. Granted this is more difficult here as many of the original sources are no longer easily available on line, but that does not justify Kessler making such inaccurate assessments. In ignoring Kerry’s many statements before the war, Glenn Kessler should be awarded five dunce caps.