Mr. Expedience

Posted: Sep 17, 2004 12:00 AM

 Singing of Werner Van Braun in the 1960s, satirist Tom Lehrer dubbed him "a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience." Those words come wafting through time now because they fit the Democratic nominee for president so perfectly.

This has been evident about John Kerry throughout his career, but never more than in relation to the Iraq war.

 Clearly Kerry entered the primary season convinced that his vote in favor of the Iraq war would position him well for the general election. He had been sounding hawkish themes since 2001. On "The O'Reilly Factor" in December 2001, Kerry said "I think we ought to put the heat on Saddam Hussein. ... I criticized the Clinton administration for backing off of the inspections, when Ambassador Butler was giving us strong evidence that we needed to continue. I think we need to put the pressure on no matter what the evidence is about Sept. 11."

 A few days later, he told Larry King: "This doesn't end with Afghanistan by any imagination. And I think the president has made that clear. I think we have made that clear. Terrorism is a global menace ... and it is absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, Saddam Hussein."

 In 2002, John Kerry declared that "If Saddam Hussein is unwilling to bend to the international community's already existing order, then he will have invited enforcement even if that enforcement is mostly at the hands of the United States, a right we retain even if the Security Council fails to act."

 Kerry also denied that the entire issue was WMDs. On "Face the Nation" (these citations all come from a superb video compiled by the Republican National Committee in September 2002, Kerry said: "I would disagree with John McCain that it's the actual weapons of mass destruction he may use against us. It's what he may do in another invasion of Kuwait or in a miscalculation about the Kurds, or a miscalculation about Iran or particularly Israel. ... He may even miscalculate and slide these weapons off to terrorist groups. ..."

 Kerry voted in favor of giving President Bush the authority to use force in Iraq to compel Saddam to disarm, and on the campaign trail he could scarcely take a breath without mentioning his service in Vietnam.

 But then hawkish Kerry ran into a stiff headwind called Howard Dean, and he began to tack. Having said in July 2002, "I agree completely with this administration's goal of a regime change in Iraq," Kerry-scared-by-Dean temporized in August 2003: "And the fact is, in the resolution we passed, we did not empower the president to do regime change." No? Then what? "I voted to threaten the use of force. ..." To threaten but not to follow through? Was it called the bluffing resolution?

 By October 2003, Kerry's spear had truly become a pruning hook. When Congress was asked to authorize $87 billion for security and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kerry at first declared that it would be "irresponsible" to deny our troops what they need. "I don't think anyone in the Congress is going to not give our troops ammunition, not give our troops the ability to be able to defend themselves. We're not going to cut and run and not do the job." Except Kerry-scared-of Dean. He voted no.

 By January 2004, the Massachusetts senator was firmly in the antiwar camp. Asked, "Are you one of the antiwar candidates?" Kerry said, "I am -- yeah."

 Kerry's new position was that he was for threatening war, not waging it. Later this evolved into what he would no doubt call a "nuanced" position that the way George W. Bush went to war was all wrong. But he has never specified what was wrong. Indeed, during the run up to the war, Kerry defended the diplomatic efforts of the president and secretary of state.

Today, when asked his position on whether it was right to remove Saddam or not, Kerry dissolves into incoherence -- expedience having finally caught up with him. Radio host Don Imus asked last week, "Do you think there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq?" Kerry replied, "Not under the current circumstances, no. There are none that I see. I voted based on weapons of mass destruction. The president distorted that. ... But I think it was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable. I've said a hundred times, there was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The president chose the wrong way. Can't be more direct than that."

 Sadly, that is probably true.