Kerry's complicated exfoliation

Posted: Mar 03, 2004 12:00 AM

It's an odd campaign gimmick, but Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., often tells voters that he was "misled" and that's why he voted for an October 2002 resolution authorizing military force against Iraq.

Kerry says he believed the resolution tied President Bush to promises to build an international coalition, to work with the United Nations and to only go to war as a last resort. A disappointed Kerry now says Bush failed in all three venues.

Kerry's story only works if you don't know that the resolution didn't bind Bush as Kerry said.

And a month before Kerry's "yes" vote, Bush went to the United Nations and said the following: "Saddam Hussein has defied the United Nations 16 times. Not once, not twice -- 16 times he has defied the U.N. The U.N. has told him after the (Persian) Gulf War what to do, what the world expected, and 16 times he's defied it. And enough is enough. The U.N. will either be able to function as a peacekeeping body as we head into the 21st century, or it will be irrelevant. And that's what we're about to find out."

When Kerry met with the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, I had the chance to ask the senator how he could have expected Bush to behave differently in light of what Bush had said.

Kerry's answer reminds me of the angry customer in the Federal Express ad who, clad only in a towel and a loofah mitt, calls a company to complain that FedEx delivered his package as scheduled, which he should not have expected, and by the way, it inconveniently interrupted a "complicated exfoliation."

Kerry's answer was that Washington insiders believed that Bush didn't mean what he said. "I think that you had a hard-line group (then Pentagon adviser) Richard Perle, (Deputy Defense Secretary) Paul Wolfowitz and probably (Vice President Dick) Cheney. But when Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker (former advisers to the first President Bush) weighed in, very publicly in op-eds in The New York Times and the (Washington) Post, the chatter around Washington and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell in particular, who was very much of a different school of thought, was really that the president hadn't made up his mind. He was looking for an out. That's what a lot of people thought."

What about what Bush said to the United Nations? That was "rhetorical," Kerry answered. And "a whole bunch of very smart legitimate people" not running for president thought as he did. "So most people, actually on the inside, really felt that (Bush) himself was looking for the way out to sort of satisfy Cheney, satisfy Wolfowitz, but not get stuck," Kerry continued. "The fact that he jumped and went the other way, I think, shocked them and shocked us."

So Kerry was "misled" because he believed that Bush didn't mean what Bush said.

Talk about your dirty tricks.

Kerry also downplayed the importance of his Iraq vote when he told the Chronicle, "Moreover, we didn't give (Bush) any authority he didn't have. (President) Clinton went to Kosovo without Congress. Clinton went to Haiti without Congress."

And: "What we thought we were doing was getting him to a place where it would be harder to go to war."

The scariest part is that Kerry looked as if he believed what he said. He had noted that all of his fears of where Bush might err turned out to be right. And at the same time, Kerry asserted that his vote for military force made it "harder" for Bush to go to war.

There are a few ways to interpret Kerry's statement.

One is to believe the Kerry spin that the Vietnam War veteran is a reluctant warrior who only sends other men's sons off to war under the most dire circumstances, and Kerry somehow believed that a Senate vote authorizing force would make it harder for Bush to send U.S. troops to Iraq.

Or you can believe Kerry is a reluctant warrior who voted for war, even if he opposed it, because he was running for president, and the war polled well.

Or you can believe that Kerry strongly believed in the war but now poses as a reluctant warrior because he is running for president as a Democrat.

Or you can believe that you shouldn't believe a politician who complains he was misled because another politician had the cheek to mean what he said.