Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A request of John Kerry. 

Published on Tuesday, October 12, 2004 by CommonDreams.org

Kerry Must Say It's Wrong to Rush Into an Unprovoked War - Even With "A Plan to Win the Peace"

by Dennis Hans

If John Kerry blows the election, it will be because he fell in love with the most ridiculous, counterproductive soundbite of the 2004 campaign: "The president rushed our nation to war without a plan to win the peace."

George W. Bush did indeed do just that. But young Kerry didn't blast LBJ for "escalating the Vietnam War without a plan to win the peace." He didn't attack Nixon for "invading Cambodia without a plan to win the peace." Nor did he say, "I would have first reached out to our allies and THEN bomb Southeast Asia back to the Stone Age."

Kerry opposed those wars because they were unnecessary and unprovoked. They were wrong. Their wrongness - particularly the human devastation - was the theme Kerry hammered home. Audiences of that era had no trouble discerning Kerry's message.

To his credit, in recent speeches and debates Kerry has done a better job on Iraq, utilizing a "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" line and criticizing Bush for his failure to keep his pledge to go to war only as a last resort. Also, Kerry has occasionally noted, when detailing how he would have done "almost everything differently," that the result of a President Kerry allowing the U.N. weapons inspectors sufficient time to complete their work would have been a final report declaring Iraq free of WMD and WMD programs - thus no justification for war, thus no war.

But more often than not he rushes to his "rushed to war without a plan to win the peace" line, in the process sabotaging what should be his winning argument. Viewers don't get to hear from Kerry just what Bush did, or to reflect on the human consequences of that fateful and fatal decision.

The president, Kerry should thunder, misled the nation into an unnecessary war. The president took intelligence reports that overstated the danger posed by Saddam, then removed the ambiguity from those reports to present with great certitude a frightening but highly distorted picture. Two weeks before Bush launched the invasion, with weapons inspectors still on the ground, following the leads of U.S. and British intelligence yet finding absolutely no evidence of WMD or even WMD programs, the president went on national TV and described Iraq as a "direct" and "gathering threat," and a "true, real threat to America" (March 6, 2003 press conference). In fact, the WMD threat looked "puny and diminishing," and a few additional months of inspections would have proved it to be non-existent. Ladies and gentlemen, that was the context in which this president launched a war that has caused the needless deaths of more than a thousand Americans and 15 thousand Iraqis - a terrible toll that rises with each passing day. George W. Bush is responsible for each and every one of those deaths.

But listen to Kerry in Friday night's debate:

"I believe the president made a huge mistake, a catastrophic mistake, not to live up to his own standard, which was: build a true global coalition, give the inspectors time to finish their job and go through the UN process to its end and go to war as a last resort. I ask each of you just to look into your hearts, look into your guts. Gut- check time. Was this really going to war as a last resort? The president rushed our nation to war without a plan to win the peace."

Kerry makes good points as he builds up to what should be a devastating condemnation of Bush, then blows it by concluding with that idiotic, irrelevant tangent. It was wrong to launch this particular war even if Bush had had the perfect "plan to win the peace."

Kerry's spokespeople botch this all the time, and John Edwards did so October 10 on the Sunday morning shows. They need to stop. The campaign needs to put together a succinct message of why this war was wrong. Criticism of Bush's conduct of the war is certainly appropriate, but it should be clearly distinct from the more important critique of the decision to go to war.

The ineptitude of Kerry's hawkish, right-leaning foreign-policy team is demonstrated once more in the aftermath of the Duelfer Report, as Kerry has let Bush make hay out of Duelfer's irrelevant speculation on what Saddam might have wanted to do, had he remained in power and economic sanctions been lifted.

As Hans Blix pointed out Sunday in the British newspaper The Independent, "even if economic sanctions were lifted or watered down in the future, nothing suggests that the Security Council would relax its ban on Iraq acquiring WMD. Indeed, binding resolutions foresaw a 'reinforced system of monitoring and verification' without any fixed end."

Does the Kerry team even know this? More to the point, did Bush, prior to the war, know this? I would bet he didn't. This could be a devastating Kerry talking point: "The president says he went to war with great reluctance. Ladies and gentlemen, he was so gung-ho that he never bothered to ask his advisers what would follow if the inspectors were to declare Iraq free of WMD."

Bush actually had a valid point when he told ABC's Diane Sawyer that, as long as Saddam had the means to make WMD, it wasn't that big a deal if he didn't have stockpiles at the ready - valid, that is, if the end result of Saddam earning a passing grade from the inspectors was for the U.N. to remove all its monitoring equpment and forego the planned, on-site and indefinite follow-up inspections, leaving Saddam to pick up where he left off in 1990, free of oversight. But, as Blix says, that wasn't about to happen. The Security Council resolutions were in place, and the U.S. could veto any proposal to end the "reinforced system of monitoring and verification."

So there you have it, Senator Kerry - the key to a decisive electoral victory: Expose President Bush as being so eager to launch an unprovoked war that has killed a thousand Americans and many more Iraqis that he apparently never bothered to ask Secretary Powell or U.N. Ambassador Negroponte, "If Blix and elBaradei declare Iraq free of WMD, will intrusive, on-site monitoring continue?" Perhaps he was not prepared to take "Yes" for an answer.

Dennis Hans (Hans_d@mail.firn.edu) is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg; he's also a basketball shooting instructor. Prior to the Iraq war, he penned the prescient essays "Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'

© 2004 Dennis Hans