Why Didn't Kerry Take GWB Up On This Challenge?

When Bush challenged Keryy last week on what he thought the proper Iraq war policy would have been if we knew then what we know now, I thought Kerry strategically ought to hit this one out of the park. It gives him the perfect opening to attack the war without seeming like an armchair QB or whiner (which his baseline position of “I voted to invade Iraq, true, but I’d have done it much better and stuff” comes off as, in spades).

“I haven’t brought this up yet because I am reluctant to second-guess such serious decisions, but since the President asked, no, I definitely would not have voted to go to war if we knew then what we know now. And that brings us to another question: why is there such a discrepancy between what we thought we knew then, and what turned out to be true? I am afraid that it is because our President made the decision to rely upon bad information provided by untrustworthy political manipulators such as the indicted criminal Chalabi – information that he and his team passed on to those of us on the Intelligence committee, who would never otherwise have voted for this misadventure that’s cost so many young American lives and inflamed our enemies, while not bringing a bit of safety to our homeland.”

Isn’t that the perfect opening for Kerry, as a tactical matter? He can play the regretful victim of a lie, the battle-scarred veteran who knows enough about war to view it as a last, worst resort, undercut Bush’s vociferous claims to be the guarantor of homeland security, etc. And Bush invited him to do it!

And while I emphatically don’t want to re-argue every thread on the Iraq war, pro or con . . . many people would believe that the above answer has the added advantage of being right on grounds of morality and sound foreign/security policy.

What possible reason could Kerry have for passing up this opportunity (unless he truly happens, coincidentally, to agree in sum and substance with the somewhat-attenuated Bush post-hoc rationalization as being a sound basis for war – which if so, is tribute to Kerry’s honesty in admitting that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two on the base issues, but calls into question both Kerry’s judgment and the relevance of his fault-finding from the sidelines on Bush’s conduct of a war that Kerry admits was basically a great thing)?

How was Bush so sure that Kerry would not call him on the very question which has the potential to make Bush look his worst, by inviting the otherwise-‘unfair’ hindsight himself? I’d have thought Bush’s machine would steer him clear of ever explicitly confronting the question of “Was it worth it even though our original rationales largely evaporated?” given how hard they’ve tried to elide the issues to make it seem as though “ridding the country of a madman” or “neutralizing a regime that had the potential to activate WMD programs” were, in fact, the original casus belli.

Is Kerry simply a nearsighted naif who truly believes that his four micro-level, procedural, reaarranging-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic, questions, would make a difference as to the underlying rightness of the war, its winnability, or the likelihood that Americans would support it? Does anyone in the American heartland who regrets the war regret it principally because GWB didn’t build a sufficient coalition with the Russians and French in order to pursue the U.S.'s(admittedly incorrect) allegations? Would domestic dissidents be happy about the foreign adventure if they were confident that Bush had gone into it with a good sound plan to “win the peace?”

He did.


Although on closer examination, he didn’t. The question was:

What Kerry said is that he would have wanted the authority; not that he actually would have gone in.

The bottom line is that Kerry needs the votes of both the war-was-wrongers and the was-was-good-even-without-WMD-but-we-could-have-managed-it-better people. Heck of a tightrope.

To put it in terms a cowboy like Bush can relate to, Kerry believes in having the gun loaded and the safety off, but not pointed at anyone… yet.

"The only safe rule is to promise little, and faithfully to keep every promise; to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’ " – Theodore Roosevelt, Autobiography

This isn’t over yet. Come the debates (or sooner) someone is going to ask Kerry: “Was it a mistake for the US to invade Iraq when we did?” If he’s smart, he’ll still dance around the issue by talking about giving the president authority to go to war as opposed to actually making the decision. It’s a no win situation for Kerry. He can’t say that Bush was wrong even if he thinks so. The country is still too closely divided about the war. So, he says the execution of the war was bad, not the war itself.

This will really hurt him in the debates. Bush will look strong saying that he belives the war was justified even without WMD. Kerry, on the other hand, willl play into the Repub. manufactured image of himself as wishy-washy by drawing nit-pickey distinctions between voting to go to war and voting for the authorization to do so. As you say though, I can’t really think of what else he could do, as taking a strong position one way or the other will hurt him as well.

I imagine this has occurred to him and he has months to think about the right answer.

I’m interested that most of you seem to think a flat “War wasn’t justified, under the facts as we now know them” is simply a non-starter for Kerry.

Depending on the poll, isn’t it about half (or more) of Americans who say pretty much the same thing, and that it’s a bad idea and the U.S. needs to get out?

Can’t the contretemps over the bogus WMD claims of Chalabi and Wolfowitz (which can be laid at Bush’s door, to the extent he relied on them and manufactured a consensus for war that almost certainly wouldn’t have existed otherwise) be used as a clear dividing line between Kerry’s earlier support and his current, deeply disappointed, regretful, conclusion that it wasn’t worth it after all, and that we’ve been duped?

Don’t you agree that supporting the war despite all the bad outcomes and faulty pre-war justifications, while procedurally nitpicking, will leave most people thinking Kerry’s just a fault-finder?

Put differently: Is anyone who’s in the war-was-a-good-idea camp (Bush’s natural constituency) going to switch over to Kerry based on his sidewalk superintendant comments about the ways and means by which the concededly-justified war is prosecuted? I just can’t see it; in my view, Bush’s justification for war ranks about a 2.5 out of 10, but his execution of a possibly-stupid war has probably been about a 7.5. Certainly not poor enough to make any hawk think Kerry would do a better job of carrying out the war.

So . . . given that I doubt Kery can steal any of the already-pro-war voters – isn’t his natural constituency the second-guessing-the-war voters? I’m not saying it’s enough to put him over the top; but shouldn’t he try?

Probably because Kerry has already been on all sides of the issue already. No matter what he says, Bush can always turn it around and reply, “So you were lying the other day when you said X?”. More to the point, Kerry so far hasn’t managed to take a strong stand on anything, except that he’s promising everything anyone wants to anybody he meets. Why do you assume he has an opinion on it except “get me elected”?

Well, but my suggestion isn’t dependent on his really having an anti-war opinion (or any opinion) – in fact, from the game-theory perspective, he’d maintain maximum flexibility by trying on whichever position promised the most swing votes. I agree with you that he’s already tarred as a flip-flop, no matter what he does. But why go chasing after pro-war voters who won’t (and probably shouldn’t) desert Bush, when it seems the opportunistic thing to do is make hay among the anti-war or used-to-be-pro-war wavering vote?