The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, March 11, 2005

Kerry in 2002

The full text of Senator Kerry's speech, in which he voted in favor of authorizing the invasion of Iraq (the famous "voted for it before" part) is available online. Its first striking feature is its length: 6445 words. I estimate that it would take me 30 to 33 minutes to read aloud, and Kerry, who is not a rapid speaker, probably took over 40. I will assume a 45-minute speech for purposes of reference. [I don't want to bore people by kicking the corpse, so I will attempt to restrain my dislike for Kerry and focus on the content of the speech itself. In practice, ad hominem arguments will be restricted to this mutter-sized font.]

Because of the sheer bulk of it, we will have to start with statistical measures. The word "Iraq" appears 76 times, "Saddam Hussein" 42 times, and "Saddam" alone once, about a third of the way through. [Consider the disciplined bloviation needed to say the full name every single time.] "President" appears 41 times, "Bush" five times (one in a reference to the G.H.W. Bush administration) and "Senate" nine.

By quintiles: at 9 minutes, Kerry is criticizing the Bush administration for not taking out Iraq right after 9/11. At 18, he is describing [presumably for the uninitiated] Iraq's defiance of inspections. At 27, he is making clear that weapons of mass destruction are the sole casus belli. At 36, he is emphasizing the limitations of the authorization, in particular its insistence on multilateralism to the greatest extent possible.

The first point is worth a brief look.

The Senate worked to urge action in early 1998. I joined with Senator McCain, Senator Hagel, and other Senators, in a resolution urging the President to "take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end his weapons of mass destruction program." That was 1998 that we thought we needed a more serious response.

Later in the year, Congress enacted legislation declaring Iraq in material, unacceptable breach of its disarmament obligations and urging the President to take appropriate action to bring Iraq into compliance. In fact, had we done so, President Bush could well have taken his office, backed by our sense of urgency about holding Saddam Hussein accountable and, with an international United Nations, backed a multilateral stamp of approval record on a clear demand for the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. We could have had that and we would not be here debating this today. But the administration missed an opportunity 2 years ago and particularly a year ago after September 11.

Kerry appears to be blaming the Bush administration for its inaction in 1998!

All the subsequent arguments, though, have centered on the last two quintiles. Let me try to get a manageable extract. At 21 minutes:

The reason for going to war, if we must fight, is not because Saddam Hussein has failed to deliver gulf war prisoners or Kuwaiti property. As much as we decry the way he has treated his people, regime change alone is not a sufficient reason for going to war, as desirable as it is to change the regime.

Regime change has been an American policy under the Clinton administration, and it is the current policy. I support the policy. But regime change in and of itself is not sufficient justification for going to war--particularly unilaterally--unless regime change is the only way to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction pursuant to the United Nations resolution.

As bad as he is, Saddam Hussein, the dictator, is not the cause of war. Saddam Hussein sitting in Baghdad with an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is a different matter.

Kerry is very clear that he desires a narrow authorization. At 24 minutes:

I want to underscore that this administration began this debate with a resolution that granted exceedingly broad authority to the President to use force. I regret that some in the Congress rushed so quickly to support it. I would have opposed it. It gave the President the authority to use force not only to enforce all of the U.N. resolutions as a cause of war, but also to produce regime change in Iraq, and to restore international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region. It made no mention of the President's efforts at the United Nations or the need to build multilateral support for whatever course of action we ultimately would take.

I am pleased that our pressure, and the questions we have asked, and the criticisms that have been raised publicly, the debate in our democracy has pushed this administration to adopt important changes, both in language as well as in the promises that they make.

The revised White House text, which we will vote on, limits the grant of authority to the President to the use of force only with respect to Iraq. It does not empower him to use force throughout the Persian Gulf region.

And at 27 minutes:

In his speech on Monday night, President Bush confirmed what Secretary Powell told the committee. In the clearest presentation to date, the President laid out a strong, comprehensive, and compelling argument why Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs are a threat to the United States and the international community. The President said: "Saddam Hussein must disarm himself, or, for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him."

This statement left no doubt that the casus belli for the United States will be Iraq's failure to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.

I would have preferred that the President agree to the approach drafted by Senators Biden and Lugar because that resolution would authorize the use of force for the explicit purpose of disarming Iraq and countering the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

[Emphasis mine.] The Biden/Lugar proposal would have written the restrictions (which President Bush and Colin Powell verbally supported) into the Senate resolution itself. It failed, but Kerry is aiming in this speech to make sure that its spirit will live on; to tie the Bush administration to the most restrictive reading of its words, even though those words were not reflected in the resolution.

This is part of the genesis of the "Bush Lied!" meme, I think. The Senate passed a resolution authorizing the use of force to enforce "all relevant Security Council resolutions related to Iraq." But, in negotiating for its passage, Bush and Mr. Powell gave some reason to believe that only those resolutions dealing with weapons of mass destruction would be relevant.

To fully accept the Kerry position of late 2004, though, we have to follow a tortuous chain of stilted attempts at logic. The Senate resolution said what it said -- less than the administration originally aimed for, but more than the Biden/Lugar counterproposal. Next, we have to consider Kerry's plea for multilateralism. At 35 minutes:
Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances.
The contrapositive of Kerry's statement is that he will only support a multilateral war, or a war after multilateral efforts have failed. I would maintain that the administration met both of these criteria: the Iraq war was multilateral, undertaken with the active support of more than half of Europe; and a more multilateral approach was, indeed, not possible under any circumstances. But certainly one criterion was met. In particular, if "multilateral" means "with United Nations approval" the second criterion is met; under any weaker definition of "multilateral", the first is.

Finally, Kerry closes with a stirring clarion call, blasting away the cobwebs of vacillation:
I yield the floor.

[Update 28 April 2005: Welcome, fellow Tom Maguire fans! I have slightly clarified the last paragraph.]