Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


An open challenge to Senator John Kerry

Senator Kerry,

The matter of your consistency on the Iraq war has been the primary source for the charge that you're a 'flip-flopper' - someone who will change positions on matters of grave importance because of politics or indecisiveness. In the debate on the evening of Friday October 8, you adamantly declared that you have been consistent all along on the war and that efforts to depict otherwise were part of a "weapon of mass deception" against you. In the interest of clarity on such an important part of such an important election, I offer that you accept the following challenge to resolve any lingering doubts about your assertions on Iraq. I would offer President Bush the same challenge as well, but I'm presuming there is less confusion about where he stands on the war than there is about where you stand on the war.

The challenge is this: please write an op-ed piece, for any major newspaper, which offers a comprehensive and consistent accounting of your position on the war, of how Iraq would be different today if you were president, and of how Iraq would be different from now on if you became president. Your answer should address the following:

- In the debate on Friday, the President reminded people, and you agreed, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. How would you have handled that threat differently than President Bush without "rushing" to war? What would Iraq be like today if you had pursued the threat differently than President Bush? You have continually described Iraq as a mess. How would it be less of a mess with you as President during this period? Would a less messy Iraq mean a Saddam-led Iraq? How would this Iraq affect democratic reforms in the Middle East? How would this Iraq affect terrorism in the Middle East, and the rest of the world?

- To the average voter, how can you say that this was the"wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time" when you, as a Senator charged with the responsibility of approving military force, gave President Bush full authority to use any means necessary to deal with Saddam Hussein? You have answered this question in the past by claiming you believe a president needs such authority but that this president used that authority unwisely? Do you not assume any responsibility for giving the President the authority to commit what you believe was a "colossal error in judgement?"

- After the war began, you decided to vote against the appropriations bill which provided $87 billion to the military efforts being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.You have said you are proud of this vote and you did it because you disagreed with how the money was being raised and how it was ultimately going to be spent. Are you telling the American people that you would deny funding to the troops because of questions of politics and process, rather than necessity and merit? Were the doubts you had about this funding so grave that you would deny the money altogether while soldiers under your command were in harm's way? Why didn't you let similar doubts prevent you from authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein?

- When politicians make votes on the most important issues of the day, they usually do so knowing full well what public perception is, and what side of an issue people will remember them being on.

So, when you voted for authorizing the war, and against the $87 billion in funding, would it not be reasonable to assume that you knew people would see you as being for the war when it was popular to do so, then being against it when it was less popular during the Democratic primaries? Would it also not be reasonable to assume that if the war was going better than it is now that you would be singing a different tune as to what your positions have been all along? As much as you have insisted on your consistency to date, isn't an alternate explanation of your decisions just as plausible, and would you not have given it if events in Iraq had developed differently?

- On August 6, President Bush said the following: "My opponent hasn't answered the question of whether knowing what we know now, he would have supported going into Iraq." Three days later, in response, you said, "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." Over a month later, you said, "Is he really saying [Bush] that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to Al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is no. " Are these two statements of yours not a perfect example of having exact opposite positions on the war within the span of a few weeks? If it's not, please explain how it isn't. In other words, how is this not a very specific and recent example of a flip-flop?

- Given that you believe Iraq is a mess, and the war a mistake, how would you now do better than the President, who has his whole presidency riding on the success of the war? You seem to have your success as a candidate riding on the lack of success of the war. Can you lead in Iraq when you have led the charge to depict the war and the situation there in as negative a light as possible?. Phrases such as "colossal error in judgement" and "the President is living in a make-believe world" about events in Iraq come to mind. Complex situations in this world are always subject to interpretation. Have your interpretations not leaned more negative than positive? And does this not stem from yet another political calculationon your part? If not, how so?

- How is you plan for Iraq going forward any different from that of the President? If the answer includes the need for greater international cooperation, how would you convince potential allies that Iraq isn't such a mess that it can't be salvaged? How would they interpret your past characterization of allies as the "coalition of the coerced?" Do you think this could hurt your efforts to bring more countries into the effort in Iraq? Or would you simply hand over control of military operations to the UN to get necessary concessions from other countries? Do you think this would be enough, given how you have portrayed the President's handling of the war to date? Is a pullout the only way to escape this "mess" in Iraq? How would you do things differently than President Bush with respect to the Iraqi people? Do you think that your lack of clarity about the justice of Saddam's removal might help or hurt your efforts in this regard?

If you feel there are other potential points of confusion regarding your Iraq policy, please feel free to clarify to your satisfaction.

You have made it a point to declare your consistency on Iraq. Given some of the questions and concerns outlined above, a clear, consistent, comprehensive, and complete accounting of your Iraq policy, past and present, I'm sure would be welcomed by the American people, as well as many in the international community you are so intent on getting on side once again.

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