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Thursday, August 12, 2004


DID KERRY NEED TO ANSWER "THE QUESTION?: I'm supposed to be finishing up my mysterious assignment this week, but the controversy over John Kerry saying he would have voted for the war had he known there were no WMDs is so maddening I have to say something about it.
First, here's what David Sanger had to say about it in today's New York Times:
As Mr. Bush [who asked the question] surely knew, it is a question that can upset the difficult balance Mr. Kerry must strike. He has to portray himself as tough and competent enough to be commander in chief, yet appeal to the faction of Democrats that hates the war and eggs him on to call Mr. Bush a liar. ..."Kerry has always had this vulnerability of looking flip-floppy on the issue and Bush is using this very shrewdly," said Walter Russell Mead, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. He added "Being silent on the question makes him look evasive, and saying something, anything, gets him in trouble with one side of his party or another." ... But the decision, in the end, was Mr. Kerry's. He chose to take the bait on Monday at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Asked by a reporter, he said he would have voted for the resolution--even in the absence of evidence of weapons of mass destruction--before adding his usual explanation that he would have subsequently handled everything leading up to the war differently. Mr. Bush, sensing he had ensnared Mr. Kerry, stuck in the knife on Tuesday, telling a rally in Panama City, Fla., that "he now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq." The Kerry camp says that interpretation of Mr. Kerry's words completely distorted the difference between a vote to authorize war and a decision to commit troops to the battlefield. So my question is--oh, how to put this--WHY? WHY?!! WHY?!!!! With all due respect to Walter Russell Mead, Kerry had an obvious alternative to either remaining silent or answering the question yes or no: He could have answered a different question, which is what politicians ALWAYS do when they get a question that makes them uncomfortable. In this case, instead of saying whether he would have voted for the war had he known there were no WMDs--which is the kind of hypothetical question politicians NEVER answer because it's the kind of decision they NEVER face (would we have even been debating an invasion of Iraq had we known there were no WMDs? of course not)--Kerry could simply have said: "I do not regret my vote to authorize the war based on the information available at the time, which is the only decision that matters." He could then have launched into his usual--and completely appropriate--screed about how what he really regrets is the administration's gross incompetence in waging the war.
That said, Kerry has a very easy way out of this problem, one that perfectly tracks with voters' intuitions about the two presidential candidates: Any time he gets a question about Iraq from here on out, he should say, very simply, "Look, if you like the way the war in Iraq turned out, vote for the other guy. If you don't like the way it turned out, vote for me." End of story.
No voter in his heart of hearts believes Kerry would have gone to war in Iraq the way Bush did--if at all. It's about time Kerry started using that presumption to his advantage.
--Noam Scheiber

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