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What Would Kerry Have Done?

At one point during the Bush/Kerry presidential campaign, well after it was clear we would not find any significant stash of chemical or biological or nuclear agents in Iraq, The Boston Globe published an editorial in which they opined that what we needed to know about John Kerry was what he would have done about Iraq “knowing what he knows now”.

I thought the suggestion was rather stupid: no one ever gets to go back and redo their important decisions based on what he learns later. The question we really needed answered was how John Kerry would make decisions in the face of inevitable ambiguity, not how he would re-think those decisions in the clarity of hindsight.

I wrote these two letters to the editors of the Globe on the same day, one to request an answer to that question and one to express my doubt that we would ever hear one. Neither was published.

29 July 2004

Your lead editorial today (7/29) insists we need to know what John Kerry would have done about Iraq knowing what he knows now. But the more important question is what he would have done knowing what he (and everyone else) knew then.

What would he have done as President in that cauldron of murky but suggestive current intelligence about WMD buttressed by a clear historical record and current and continued obstinacy on the part of Iraq; with the Iraqi state again accelerating its role as a cesspit of Arab nationalism and Arab frustration festering in the midst of the Islamic world, feeding the beast of fanaticism; with France vowing to block any Security Council action under any circumstances on the presumption that America is the primary danger to the world today; with the consensus even to continue the sanctions which had been containing Saddam’s ambitions on the verge of crumbling, torpedoed by Europe from without and by our own compassionate left from within; with suggestions of a potential alliance of convenience between a secular regime intent on obtaining weapons of mass destruction and suicidal Islamic zealots intent on using them against us?

What would President Kerry have done in that maelstrom of uncertainty and risk? Would he have rolled the dice on a limited war of Democratization to eliminate both tactical and strategic threats? Would he have rolled the dice on a future of Al Quaeda armed with Iraqi nukes? Would he have rolled the dice on appeasement? Would he have dithered and delayed hoping for some better developments? Would he have subjugated his own judgments on our security needs, and our own sovereignty, to world opinion — or to French opinion? Would he have had some secret store of diplomatic magic to make Iraq and/or France and Germany and/or Al Quaeda suddenly cooperative and reasonable? Some enlightened plan to make us all just get along? What would he have done in George Bush’s place?

That is the question I want answered before I can, in good conscience, cast a vote for him.

PS: If you can’t publish this, maybe you could slip it to someone at the Kerry campaign and convince him to answer the question some time before November. This is important. If I, and many like me, can’t get a satisfactory answer to this question, we may need to hold our noses and vote for Bush as an act of simple risk management.

29 July 2004

Your lead editorial today (7/29) asks what John Kerry would do about Iraq. You ask about the invasion with the qualifier “knowing what he knows now”, but the question may be fairly asked more broadly.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely we will get any useful answers. What he has said so far — variants of ‘work with the international community’ or (as it says on his web-site) “…lead a coalition of the able — because no force on earth is more able than the United States and its allies” — lacks any specificity. It may be logically reduced to “By golly, I will solve this problem by…solving this problem!“, as if envisioning the goal is the same as achieving it.

Such phrases may engage emotions but, when I hear him say words like “…lead a coalition of the able…“, the meaning that reaches the reasoning part of my brain is more like “How should I approach Iraq?  I haven’t a clue — but trust me: I play an intellectual on TV.

© Copyright 2004, 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

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