Monday, August 08, 2005

Matthews Continues to Beat Up Kerry. Unfairly

Throughout the 2004 Presidential Campaign, Chris Matthews echoed the Republican line that John Kerry was a flip-flopper on the Iraq war, whose vote to authorize the use of military force contradicted his subsequent criticism of the war. Matthews continued this theme on Friday night, when he played Hardball with Chris Galloway, President of the Young Democrats of America.

Matthews asked Galloway whether the Young Democrats oppose the war. Galloway replied "Absolutely. The Young Democrats of America are not supportive of this war. The young people that I talk to are not supportive of this war. . . ."

Hmm. If Citizen Cain had been hosting, the next question would have been whether Galloway meant only "not supportive of the decision to go to war," or also "not supportive of continuing U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

Matthews wasn’t interested in such clarifications, however. Here’s how the subsequent questioning went:

MATTHEWS: Did you—did you vote for John Kerry this last election?
GALLOWAY: I did absolutely vote for John Kerry.
MATTHEWS: Well, how did he vote on the issue of whether to start this war or not?
GALLOWAY: Well, I think the real issue here is that...
MATTHEWS: Where did Hillary Clinton vote? Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war. John Kerry voted to authorize the war. I just wonder what it means to say you are against the war if you vote to give the president a blank check. I don‘t see any clarity from the Democratic Party on this.

Let's leave aside for now Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, and focus just on John Kerry. Did he "vote to give the president a blank check"? Let’s remember the situation back when the vote occurred, on October 11, 2002, there were no UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, and there were serious doubts about whether Saddam Hussein would allow them to return. Consensus opinion, at the time, was the Iraq possessed chemical weapons and was actively pursing nuclear weapons. In this context, John Kerry stated the following, on October 9:

. . . the enforcement mechanism through the United Nations and the reality of the potential of the use of force is so critical to achieve the protection of long-term interests, not just of the United States but of the world, to understand that the dynamic has changed, that we are living in a different status today, that we cannot sit by and be as complacent or even negligent about weapons of mass destruction and proliferation as we have been in the past.
. . .
When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security and that of our allies in the Persian Gulf region. I will vote yes because I believe it is the best way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. And the administration, I believe, is now committed to a recognition that war must be the last option to address this threat, not the first, and that we must act in concert with allies around the globe to make the world's case against Saddam Hussein. As the President made clear earlier this week, "Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable." It means "America speaks with one voice."Let me be clear, the vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that
objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies. In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.
. . .
In voting to grant the President the authority, I am not giving him carte blanche to run roughshod over every country that poses or may pose some kind of potential threat to the United States. Every nation has the right to act preemptively, if it faces an imminent and grave threat, for its self-defense under the standards of law. The threat we face today with Iraq does not meet that test yet. I emphasize "yet." Yes, it is grave because of the deadliness of Saddam Hussein's arsenal and the very high
probability that he might use these weapons one day if not disarmed. But it is not imminent, and no one in the CIA, no intelligence briefing we have had suggests it is imminent. None of our intelligence reports suggest that he is about to launch an attack.
Is this an excessively "nuanced" position? Would it have been better for Kerry politically to have voted against authorization? Perhaps. But it doesn’t contradict his later opposition to the invasion itself nor his criticisms of the war’s conduct. He voted to authorize force in a situation where voting against authorization might have led to the failure of the UN effort to re-introduce inspectors, and would have left the United States unsure of whether Saddam Hussein was continuing to pursue weapons of mass destruction.

And it worked! Hussein let the inspectors back in. But Bush did not keep his promise to treat the war that Congress authorized as a last resort. Let’s see Matthews harp on that.