April 29, 2004

John Kerry has suffered far more this week at the hands of his friends than through the connivance of his enemies. First came Al Gore, whose endorsement proved so prescient and powerful for Howard Dean. The former vice president laid hands on the man from Massachusetts, hinting by way of a threat that he might even hit the campaign trail.

Then New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg delivered a chicken-hawk rant on the Senate floor, provoking questions about his sobriety, only to be outdone Thursday morning by Senators Robert C. Byrd and Edward M. Kennedy, both of whom shrieked preemptively about the one-year anniversary of the president’s landing aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.

Senator Byrd appeared as the grim orator, conjuring images of babies crying piteously for their slain mammies and pappies, who were led like pigs to the abattoir by George W. Bush.

No prose can do justice to the speech, which was pure corn pone Shakespeare. The lion of the Senate whimpered about shattered families; he oozed contempt for the young president; and he trembled with rage about a war he has never supported, a president he never has respected, and a cause he seems destined never to understand. His voice traversed a full two octaves during one of Byrd’s most entertaining speeches in ages.

Senator Kennedy presents a more interesting case. He reprised his “George Bush’s Vietnam” spiel. I will summarize the key points with the relevant quotes:

1) The president is clueless.

“Then, as now, the President had no plan and no strategy about how America can stabilize Iraq, bring our soldiers home with dignity and honor, and accomplish the mission.”

2) Saddam wasn’t enough of a threat to justify going to war.

“Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator.  But he did not pose the kind of immediate threat to our national security that could justify a unilateral, preventive war without the broad support of the international community.”

3) The president is a lying sack of garbage, and Congress is comprised of impressionable babes in the woods.

“It's clear that the Bush Administration manipulated, misrepresented, and distorted the available intelligence in order to justify the war in Iraq.  They put a spin on the intelligence and a spin on the truth.  They said Saddam was acquiring nuclear weapons. He wasn't. They said he had close ties to Al Qaeda. He didn't. Congress would never have voted to authorize the war if we had known the truth.”

4) It’s a Quagmire!

“Iraq has become a quagmire.  It may well go down as the worst blunder in the entire history of American foreign policy.

“Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam.” 

5) Because of this Bush guy, the refined members of the international community hate us.

“By going to war in Iraq, President Bush squandered the immense good will of the world community we had won in the wake of 9/11, and we're paying a high price in the lives of our troops and the respect of other nations.”

6) Because of this Bush guy, we’re at risk of losing the war on terror.

“By going to war in Iraq, President Bush has made the real war on terrorism harder to win.  We left the war in Afghanistan unfinished.  We should never have given Al Qaeda precious time to recover and regroup and expand their reach.  By doing so, we made future terrorist attacks on the United States more likely.”

7) The administration should have known what would happen after the war, and now, it ought to rely on the wisdom of, say, the U.N.

“The Administration's post-war planning was based on a quicksand of false assumptions.  It has been hamstrung by blunder, after blunder, after blunder.  The continuing arrogance of the Administration has blinded it to the cold, hard facts about the immense challenge of post-war reconstruction in Iraq…

“It is painfully clear that the President and those who advocated the war have lost all credibility on Iraq…(T)hey have no plan to extricate us from the quagmire they created.  The result has been chaos for the Iraqi people, and continuing mortal danger for our troops...

“All of us who have concerns about the Administration's past policy welcome the re-involvement of the United Nations in Iraq and the Administration's openness to a new UN resolution...

“Only a new Administration that has the trust and confidence of the rest of the world will be able to bring in the international community to:

• Provide international troops
• Provide international police
• Provide international financial resources
• Achieve a workable political solution, and
• Relieve the burden on our military and bring them home with dignity and honor.”

That’s the essence of the thing. Now, several comments.

The Kennedy argument depends on whoppers about what happened before, during and after the invasion of Iraq.

Pre-war: Nobody ever warned about Saddam’s “acquiring” nukes, for instance, only about the possibility that he might develop the ability to create nukes within months or years. Moreover, the al Qaeda link, far from being refuted, looks stronger by the day. On the matter of weapons of mass destruction, the question ought not be whether they exist, but where they went. The recent al Qaeda attempt to detonate a chemical weapon in Amman, Jordan provides an eerie clue. Jordanian officials, by the way, say the blast would have killed 80,000 Jordanians.

Also pre-war: Kennedy implies that the international community was chummy with us until the war. False: Germany’s chancellor got re-elected on a demagogically anti-American platform a half year before the war began, and the French have been posturing for years as the “counterweight” to the U.S. The International Community isn’t rebelling against America’s initiating the war; it’s rebelling against America’s success – economically, culturally, spiritually, socially – and Europe’s deepening failure.

Wartime: Kennedy’s right. The administration didn’t anticipate every twist and turn after the war. Neither did the senator. He opposed the war, but neither he nor any other doubter (with the qualified exception of Sen. Joe Biden) expressed any serious or thoughtful misgivings. Mostly, they griped because Americans approved of the president’s performance.

Postwar: Quagmire. Be serious.

Serious help from the international community: Be serious.

The French and Russians opposed the war because they were looting the Iraqi people through the UN’s Oil-for-Food Program – a program for which 80 percent of the relevant financial documents mysteriously have vanished. Yet, even if they wanted to play along, they don’t have enough troops to make up the slack in Iraq. Neither does NATO. Rather than relying on “allies” who have far different national interests than we do, it makes sense to develop a coalition of the willing – which is precisely what the president has done.

Lost credibility: Be serious.

This brings me to the original point. John Kerry cannot like this sort of thing. The Kennedy speech repeated every stale anti-war canard, smeared on a couple layers of self-doubt and loathing, and then set up as the white knight an international community that has far more experience running from tough challenges than meeting them. This won’t play very well among the American lumpenproletariat. Only al Qaeda polls worse than the U.N. among the public.

Besides, how on earth do you think the Kennedy and Byrd speeches will play in "red" states – some of which Kerry will have to win in order to become president? Worse, how will swing voters react to the fact that the two old warriors of the left seem to have become the primary shapers of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy?