My previous post discussed the ambiguity created by Saddam as to the presence of WMD in Iraq prior to the war, especially prior to the return of the inspectors. While the conservative argument for going to war based upon WMD has been thoroughly discredited, some on the left are also wrong when they claim to have known with absolute certainty that Saddam did not process WMD. If Saddam’s own generals believed WMD was present, there was sufficient reason for the United States to see need to insist upon the return of the inspectors even if there was never justification for going to war.
The ambiguity as to the existence of WMD explains why some Democrats, such as John Kerry, saw reason to provide George Bush with the leverage to force Saddam to allow the inspectors back in. In retrospect, as Kerry has admitted, the vote for the IWR was wrong as George Bush could not be trusted with this authority. In retrospect, it is also clear George Bush was lying when he said at the time of 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 something.”
John Kerry had made it clear that the only reason he voted for the IWR was to give Bush the leverage to force Saddam to allow the inspectors to return. In his Senate floor speech at the time of the vote, Kerry said, “In giving the President this authority, 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, I will be among the first to speak out.”
William Pitt reported a similar explanation when Kerry was asked to explain his vote by journalists:
“This was the hardest vote I have ever had to cast in my entire career,” Kerry said. “I voted for the resolution to get the inspectors in there, period. Remember, for seven and a half years we were destroying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In fact, we found more stuff there than we thought we would. After that came those four years when there was no intelligence available about what was happening over there. I believed we needed to get the weapons inspectors back in. I believed Bush needed this resolution in order to get the U.N. to put the inspectors back in there. The only way to get the inspectors back in was to present Bush with the ability to threaten force legitimately. That’s what I voted for.”
“The way Powell, Eagleberger, Scowcroft, and the others were talking at the time,” continued Kerry, “I felt confident that Bush would work with the international community. I took the President at his word. We were told that any course would lead through the United Nations, and that war would be an absolute last resort. Many people I am close with, both Democrats and Republicans, who are also close to Bush told me unequivocally that no decisions had been made about the course of action. Bush hadn’t yet been hijacked by Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney and that whole crew. Did I think Bush was going to charge unilaterally into war? No. Did I think he would make such an incredible mess of the situation? No. Am I angry about it? You’re God damned right I am. I chose to believe the President of the United States. That was a terrible mistake.”
Pitt then explained that Kerry’s explanation was justified:
History defends this explanation. The Bush administration brought Resolution 1441 to the United Nations in early November of 2002 regarding Iraq, less than a month after the Senate vote. The words “weapons inspectors” were prominent in the resolution, and were almost certainly the reason the resolution was approved unanimously by the Security Council. Hindsight reveals that Bush’s people likely believed the Hussein regime would reject the resolution because of those inspectors. When Iraq opened itself to the inspectors, accepting the terms of 1441 completely, the administration was caught flat-footed, and immediately began denigrating the inspectors while simultaneously piling combat troops up on the Iraq border. The promises made to Kerry and the Senate that the administration would work with the U.N., would give the inspectors time to complete their work, that war would be an action of last resort, were broken.
Democrats such as John Kerry, even if incorrect on the IWR vote, were correct in arguing for a return of the inspectors and the use of military force only should it be necessary, as a last resort, to disarm Saddam. This position was neither pro-war as some on the left claim, or a sign that Democrats were not willing to defend the country when necessary. Howard Dean, despite being mislabeled as a radical anti-war candidate by the media, held essentially the same position. On January 31, 2003 Ron Brownstein of the Los Angles Times noted that “In his Thursday comments, Dean said if Bush presents what he considered to be persuasive evidence that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, he would support military action, even without U.N. authorization.”
Adam Nagourney reported a similar statement on February 10, 2003:
But Dr. Dean said in an interview that he would support a United States invasion of Iraq if it was approved by the United Nations.
”Action with the U.N. is where we should be aiming at right now,” Dr. Dean said. ”We should be going back and set a timeline with the U.N. for absolute disarmament. I’ve chosen 60 days. And then there would be military action.”
Jack Tapper presented a similar report of Dean’s view in Salon:
He gets a deluge of phone calls from reporters asking him to clarify his position. Which is — “as I’ve said about eight times today,” he says, annoyed — that Saddam must be disarmed, but with a multilateral force under the auspices of the United Nations. If the U.N. in the end chooses not to enforce its own resolutions, then the U.S. should give Saddam 30 to 60 days to disarm, and if he doesn’t, unilateral action is a regrettable, but unavoidable, choice.
A look back at what was really known before the war, and what Democratic leaders such as Kerry and Dean said, disputes Republican claims that war was justified, that Kerry either flip-flopped or supported Bush’s decision to go to war, or that Democrats would not defend America if actually threatened. Despite the emphasis on trivial differences during the primary battles, Kerry and Dean stood together in being strong on demanding that the inspections continue, and in opposing going to war unless we were proven to be endangered.