Flip-flopping charge unsupported by facts
Kerry always pushed global cooperation, war as last resort

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Editor's note: An examination of President Bush's stance on the war in Iraq will be published next week.


(Followed by other related articles, 11 page equivalent.)


Washington -- No argument is more central to the Republican attack on Sen. John Kerry than the assertion that the Democrat has flip-flopped on Iraq.


President Bush, seated beside Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said Tuesday: "My opponent has taken so many different positions on Iraq that his statements are hardly credible at all.''


The allegation is the basis of a new Bush campaign TV ad that shows the Democratic senator from Massachusetts windsurfing to the strains of a Strauss waltz as a narrator intones: "Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it and now opposes it again.''


Yet an examination of Kerry's words in more than 200 speeches and statements, comments during candidate forums and answers to reporters' questions does not support the accusation.

As foreign policy emerged as a dominant issue in the Democratic primaries and later in the general election, Kerry clung to a nuanced, middle-of-the road -- yet largely consistent -- approach to Iraq. Over and over, Kerry enthusiastically supported a confrontation with Saddam Hussein even as he aggressively criticized Bush for the manner in which he did so.


Kerry repeatedly described Hussein as a dangerous menace who must be disarmed or eliminated, demanded that the U.S. build broad international support for any action in Iraq and insisted that the nation had better plan for the post-war peace.


There were times when Kerry's emphasis shifted for what appear to be political reasons. In the fall of 2003, for example, when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean surged to the top of Democratic polls based on an anti-war platform, Kerry's criticism of the president grew stronger. There are many instances in which clumsy phrases and tortuously long explanations make Kerry difficult to follow. And there are periods, such as last week, when the sharpness of Kerry's words restating old positions seem to suggest a change.


Yet taken as a whole, Kerry has offered the same message ever since talk of attacking Iraq became a national conversation more than two years ago.


"Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm (Hussein) by force, if we ever exhaust ... other options,'' Kerry said 23 months ago on the Senate floor before voting to authorize the force, imploring Bush to take the matter to the United Nations.


"If we do wind up going to war with Iraq, it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community," Kerry said, insisting that Bush work with the United Nations. "If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out,'' Kerry said.


Republicans have hit the flip-flop charge hard. The Republican National Committee produced an 11-minute video, widely distributed on the Internet, which features dozens of seemingly inconsistent Kerry statements and the soundtrack to the 1960s television show "Flipper.'' Bush supporters distributed Kerry flip-flop sandals to delegates at the GOP convention last month, the Bush campaign produced a Kerry flip-flop game for its Web site, and the president brings it up almost every day on the campaign trail.


The crux of the flip-flopping charge is based on pitting Kerry's pointed criticism of the war against his October 2002 vote to authorize the use of force, a vote the Democratic senator defends to this day.


Republicans are not the only ones who characterize the vote as an endorsement of war. Many Democrats, including Dean, warned that a vote in favor of the resolution would be tantamount to giving Bush a blank check to go to war. Even today, many Democrats are aghast at Kerry's insistence that, knowing everything he knows now, he would cast the same vote.


Kerry, who was one of 29 Democratic senators to support the resolution, said the vote was appropriate to strengthen the president's hand in negotiations, and he draws a distinction between his vote and an endorsement of the March 2003 attack.


"Congressional action on this resolution is not the end of our national debate on how best to disarm Iraq,'' Kerry said on the eve of the vote. "Nor does it mean we have exhausted all of our peaceful options to achieve this goal.''


Republicans ridicule such distinctions and use Kerry's vote as the basis for their assertion that Kerry once favored the war.


"He voted for it,'' said Republican national chairman Ed Gillespie when asked Wednesday to back the charge that Kerry supported the war. "Look at the coverage at the time, it was pretty clear what was going on.''


Yet in the fall of 2002, several months before the air strikes on Baghdad began, Bush himself insisted the vote was not the same as a declaration of war but instead gave him the hand he needed to negotiate the peace.


"If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force,'' Bush said in September 2002. "It's a chance for Congress to say, 'we support the administration's ability to keep the peace.' That's what this is all about.''


The Bush campaign frequently cites Kerry's seemingly incongruous statement at a West Virginia rally in March as another example of his inconsistency.


"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,'' Kerry said regarding the Bush administration's request for more funding for the Iraq operation.


The line has been used in Bush campaign commercials, and the campaign distributed a memo Tuesday suggesting the vote raises doubts about Kerry's commitment to U.S. troops.


The White House is aware that the statement does not reflect a contradiction but an inelegant way of defending a pair of Senate votes. Kerry voted for a measure that paid for the $87 billion by reducing tax cuts for those who earn more than $300,000. He voted against a measure that paid for the $87 billion by adding to the deficit.


The biggest shifts in Kerry's language seem to appear at the high-water marks of the war -- shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 and after the capture of Hussein the following December -- when he seems less critical of the Bush policy.


Two days after Bush stood before the "Mission Accomplished'' sign and declared major combat over, Kerry participated in a forum with rival Democratic presidential candidates.


ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked the candidates if the war was the right decision at the right time.


"I said at the time I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity,'' Kerry said, "but I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I support him and I support the fact that we did disarm him.''


By contrast, Dean in response to the same question called it the "wrong war at the wrong time,'' using language very similar to what Kerry has said recently.


Perhaps the words that Kerry will have the hardest time explaining today are those he uttered three days after Hussein was captured. Dean, who had emerged as Kerry's strongest challenger for the Democratic nomination, said that while Hussein's capture was good news, it had not "made America any safer. ''


Kerry seized on the statement, telling students at Drake University, "Those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president.''


Kerry's enthusiastic words seem to conflict with his statement Monday at New York University.

"Saddam Husein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But ... the satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure, '' Kerry said.


For a candidate who has been in elected office nearly a quarter of a century, Kerry has at times shown a remarkable inability to explain the nuances of his position.


Asked by radio host Don Imus last week to explain how he could be so critical of the war yet stand by his vote to authorize the use of force, Kerry responded with a 324-word answer, including a discussion of no-fly zones and Iraqi tribal separatism.


The response left Imus -- a self-described Kerry supporter -- perplexed.

"I was just back in my office banging my head on the jukebox,'' Imus told listeners when the interview was over. "This is my candidate, and ... I don't know what he's talking about.''


Editor's note

An examination of President Bush's stance on the war in Iraq will be published next week.


Kerry on Iraq


Oct. 9, 2002

Senate floor speech on Iraq resolution:

"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.''


Sept. 9, 2003

Speech announcing presidential campaign, Patriot's Point, S.C.:

"I voted to threaten the use of force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the United Nations. I believe that was right -- but it was wrong to rush to war without building a true international coalition -- and with no plan to win the peace.''


March 18, 2003

Statement on the eve of the attack on Baghdad:

"Even having botched the diplomacy, it is the duty of any president, in the final analysis, to defend this nation and dispel the security threat. ... Saddam Hussein has brought military action upon himself by refusing for 12 years to comply with the mandates of the United Nations. ... My strong personal preference would have been for the administration ... to have given diplomacy more time.''


Dec. 3, 2003

Speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, New York City:

"Simply put, the Bush administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history.''


Sept. 20, 2004

New York University:

"President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again the same way. How can he possibly be serious? Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to Al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq?''


E-mail Marc Sandalow at

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September 24, 2004


Let's Get Real



Never mind the inevitable claims that John Kerry is soft on terrorism. What he must address is the question of how his policy in Iraq would differ from President Bush's. And his answer should be that unlike Mr. Bush, whose decisions have been dictated at every stage by grandiose visions and wishful thinking, he will get real - focusing on what is really possible in Iraq, and what needs to be done to protect American security.

Mr. Bush claims that Mr. Kerry's plan to secure and rebuild Iraq is "exactly what we're currently doing." No, it isn't. It's only what Mr. Bush is currently saying. And we have 18 months of his administration's deeds to contrast with his words.

The actual record is one of officials who have refused to admit that their fantasies about how the war would go were wrong, and who have continued to push us ever deeper into the quagmire because of their insistence that everything is going according to plan.

There has been a lot of press coverage of the administration's failure to do anything serious about rebuilding Iraq. Less attention has been given to its parallel failure to take the security problem seriously until much of Iraq had already been lost.

Long after it was obvious to everyone else that we were engaged in an escalating guerrilla war, Bush appointees clung to the belief that they were fighting a handful of dead-enders and foreign terrorists.

As a result, they casually swelled the ranks of our foes - remember, Moktada al-Sadr was never going to be our friend, but he didn't have to be our enemy. They even treated Iraqi security forces with contempt, not bothering to provide them with adequate training or equipment.

In an analysis titled "Inexcusable Failure," Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies details how the U.S. "failed to treat the Iraqis as partners in the counterinsurgency effort." U.S. officials, he declares, are "guilty of a gross military, administrative and moral failure."

That failure continues. All the evidence suggests that Bush officials still think that one more military push - after the U.S. election, of course - will end the insurgency. They're still not taking the task of fighting a sustained guerrilla war seriously.

"Three months into its new mission," The New York Times reported, "the military command in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces has fewer than half of its permanent headquarters personnel in place."

At the root of this folly is a continuing refusal to face uncomfortable facts. Confronted with a bleak C.I.A. assessment of the Iraq situation - one that matches the judgment of just about every independent expert - Mr. Bush's response is that "they were just guessing." "In many ways," Mr. Cordesman writes, "the administration's senior spokesmen still seem to live in a fantasyland."

Fantasyland extended to the Rose Garden yesterday, where Mr. Bush said polls asking Iraqis whether their nation was on the right track were more positive than similar polls asking Americans about their outlook - and he seemed to consider that a good sign.

Where is Mr. Bush taking us? As the reality of Iraq gets worse, his explanations of our goals get ever vaguer. "The security of our world," Mr. Bush told the U.N., "is found in the advancing rights of mankind."

He doesn't really believe that. After all, he continues to praise Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, even as Mr. Putin strangles democratic institutions. The subtext of Mr. Bush's bombast is that because he can't bring himself to admit a mistake, he refuses to give up on his effort to turn Iraq into a docile client state - an effort that is doomed unless he can figure out a way to come up with a few hundred thousand more troops.

We don't have to go there. American policy shouldn't be dictated by Mr. Bush's infallibility complex; our first priority must be our own security. And in Iraq, that means setting realistic goals.

On "Meet The Press" back in April, Mr. Kerry wasn't as forthright about Iraq as he has now, at long last, become, but he did return several times to a point that shows that he is on the right track. "What is critical," he said, "is a stable Iraq." Not an Iraq in our image, but a country that isn't a "failed state" that poses a threat to American security.

The Bush administration has made such a mess of Iraq that even achieving that goal will be very hard. But unlike Mr. Bush's fantasies, it's still in the realm of the possible.


September 24, 2004


Panel Calls U.S. Troop Size Insufficient for Demands


WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 - A Pentagon-appointed panel of outside experts has concluded in a new study that the American military does not have sufficient forces to sustain current and anticipated stability operations, like the festering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other missions that might arise.

Portions of the study, which has not been officially released, were read into the public record on Thursday by Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a leader of Democrats who want to expand the size of the military. During testimony by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top commanders, Senator Reed said he found the study "provocative and startling."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the report was an "excellent piece of work," and that he had ordered briefings on its findings for senior military and civilian officials.

But he cautioned after the hearing that the section read by Senator Reed was not a comprehensive synopsis, and that the authors of the study may not be fully aware of the variety of steps under way by the Pentagon broadly to lessen stress on the force, and actions taken specifically by the Army to increase the number of available combat forces without further expanding the military.

Senator Reed said the Defense Science Board study found "inadequate total numbers of U.S. troops" and "a lack of long-term endurance."

He quoted the report as saying that unless the United States scaled back its stabilization operations, it would have to reshape its forces to "trade combat capabilities for stabilization capabilities" or depend on contributions of troops from allied countries or the United Nations.

"If everything we recommend is implemented over the next five years but we continue our current foreign policy of military expeditions every two years, we will begin two more stabilization operations without sufficient preparation or resources," Mr. Reed said in describing the findings of the board, a high-level advisory group.

The study itself was managed by two defense industry executives: Craig Fields, a former chairman of the Defense Science Board and former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; and Philip A. Odeen, another former Defense Department official. "They conclude by saying: anything started wrong tends to continue wrong," Mr. Reed said during a four-hour hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Reed added that the study raises troubling questions in the event that the American presence in Iraq drags on and new emergencies arise. "Iran and North Korea are provocative," he said. "They very well might cause us to take military action; one hopes not. And then, as you often say, there's also the surprises that we don't even contemplate at this moment."

The issue of long-term deployments to Iraq, and whether the military should be further expanded, have become much-debated issues on the campaign trail this election year.

An article published Thursday by Inside the Pentagon, a military affairs newsletter, quoted the study as concluding that "current and projected force structure will not sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments."

In assigning the project to the science board last January, Michael W. Wynne, an under secretary of defense, wrote: "Our military expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq are unlikely to be the last such excursion in the global war on terrorism. We may need to support an ally under attack by terrorists determined to replace the legitimate government; we may need to effect change in the governance of a country that is blatantly sustaining support for terrorism; or we may need to assist an ally who is unable to govern areas of their own country, where terrorists may recruit, train and plan without interference by the legitimate government."

Under questioning by Senator Reed, Mr. Rumsfeld said the first goal is to maximize the use of troops already in the service by managing them better.

Mr. Rumsfeld cited a number of steps taken to ease the strain on the American military, including the shift of important combat skills from the reserves to active-duty troops, and the assignment of administrative tasks to civilians so those in uniform could return to combat duties.

Mr. Rumsfeld also complimented efforts by the Army to increase the number of combat-ready brigades by redesigning its divisions into more modular fighting units.

But he noted that if the reorganizations fail to field the military forces required by commanders, "then by golly, you're right, we'll have to go to an increase in end strength."

In brief comments to reporters following the hearing, Mr. Rumsfeld said the Defense Science Board "did a good job" with the study. Of the sections read into the public record, he cautioned, "You did not get a comprehensive synopsis" but only "a few paragraphs."

Mr. Rumsfeld declined to give a more thorough summary of the study.


September 24, 2004

Guard to Miss Goal by 5,000 Recruits



WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (AP) - The Army National Guard will fall 5,000 soldiers short of its recruiting goal this year, in part because fewer in the active-duty force are switching to part-time service, knowing how frequently Guard units are being dispatched to war zones, the Guard's top general said Thursday.

It will be the first time since 1994 that the Guard has missed its goal.

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum of the Army, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was concerned by the shortfall but believed that it would not be a long-term trend.

The Guard had set a goal of 56,000 recruits for the budget year ending Sept. 30 but is likely to end up with about 51,000, General Blum said.

He cited two reasons the Guard was attracting fewer soldiers from the active-duty force, a pool of recruits that in some states accounts for half of the new Guard members in a given year.

One reason is that the active-duty Army is prohibiting soldiers already in units in Iraq or Afghanistan, or preparing for deployment there, from leaving the service, even if their enlistment term is up.

The other reason, General Blum said, is that active-duty soldiers know that a growing number of Guard units are being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, so they figure there is little to be gained, in terms of reduced personal risk, by switching to the Guard from active duty.




September 24, 2004

Powell Deputy Says Elections Must Be 'Open to All' in Iraq



WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 The second-ranking official at the State Department said today, in an apparent contradiction of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, that the elections scheduled for Iraq in January must be "open to all citizens."

"We're going to have an election that is free and open," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said at a House committee hearing, "and that has to be open to all citizens."

When he was asked after the session if he knew of any plans to not hold elections in particularly violent sections of Iraq, Mr. Armitage said: "I know of no changes or no plans. We're pushing ahead fully, supporting the Iraqi people and the United Nations." He went on to reiterate that those plans called for "nationwide elections for a 275-person national assembly before the end of January."

Mr. Armitage's testimony before the House Appropriations Committee's panel on foreign operations, and his comments afterward, seemed to put him at odds, at least for the moment, with Secretary Rumsfeld, who theorized before another Capitol Hill hearing on Thursday that elections might be held in only "three-quarters or four-fifths of the country" because some regions are not yet secure enough.

"So be it," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Nothing's perfect in life."

Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, seemed to foreshadow Mr. Rumsfeld's comments when he told a joint meeting of Congress earlier on Thursday, in an address that was generally upbeat, that the elections "may not be perfect."

Nor, Mr. Rumsfeld said today, does Iraq have to be entirely peaceful before the United States can begin withdrawing some of its 130,000 troops from Iraq.

"No country wants foreign forces in their country any longer than they have to be there," Mr. Rumsfeld said as he and Mr. Allawi appeared together at a news briefing. "Our goal is to invest the time and the money and the effort to help them train up Iraqis to take over those responsibilities" of providing security within Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who did not set out a timetable for any troop withddrawal, said, "Any implication that that place has to be peaceful and perfect before we can reduce coalition and U.S. forces, I think, would obviously be unwise, because it's never been peaceful and perfect, and it isn't likely to be."

Mr. Armitage, in his comments after today's hearing by the House Appropriations panel, seemed to try to minimize any impression of a disagreement or momentary disconnect within the administration.

Alluding to Mr. Allawi's White House appearance with President Bush as well as to the address to Congress, Mr. Armitage said that both Mr. Bush and the Iraqi leader "were crystal clear in saying that the elections were going to be held, and they'll be free and fair, and they wouldn't be perfect," adding, "We absolutely want to hold them in all parts of the country."

Any widespread impression of confusion in the administration, especially if it persists, could be damaging, since Mr. Bush's Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry, has stepped up his criticism of the administration's entire approach to Iraq.

Mr. Kerry has essentially been saying that the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein was a misguided, reckless, go-it-alone adventure, and that Mr. Bush has no real plan for getting the United States out of Iraq. He has said, too, that the war against Saddam Hussein detracted from the more important mission of pursuing Osama bin Laden.

To make things even more uncomfortable for the White House, Mr. Armitage had to listen to sharp criticism of the administration today as he appeared before the appropriations panel to request that $3.5 billion originally designated for reconstruction in Iraq be diverted for security purposes an acknowledgment that violence had persisted longer than many people had expected.

Mr. Armitage conceded as much today. "We found that the security situation or the insurgents more virulent than we had expected," he testified, "and we need to more rapidly stand up security in order then to have enough stability to have reconstruction projects really get traction."

At another point, he acknowledged that administration leaders did not fully understand the complexities of Iraqi society before the campaign. "We have to acknowledge that there were several things that we didn't foresee," he said. "One was a full understanding of the tribal nature, the real importance of tribes and how to bring tribal elders into it." He added, "I don't think that I got that right, personally."

Echoing the president's own admission last month that his administration had made a "miscalculation" on what the United States would face in post-invasion Iraq, Mr. Armitage, a Navy combat veteran of the Vietnam War, cited a military axiom: "No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and our plan didn't either."

Several panel members of both parties expressed their liking and respect for Mr. Armitage even as they criticized the administration's approach to Iraq. While it appeared from the lawmakers' comments that the funds diversion would be approved, the chairman of the foreign-operations panel, Representative Jim Kolbe, said its members would not hesitate "to call this or any other administration to account for failure to implement a reconstruction program that offers the only hope for long-term stability in Iraq."

Mr. Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona, sharply criticized the administration. "In invading Iraq, the U.S., along with its allies, chose to take a calculated risk in favor of U.S. national security interests," he said. "While the decision remains justified in my mind, I think it is fair to say that the administration has made some fundamental mistakes in the planning and execution of the postwar strategy."

Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the panel, called the situation in Iraq "the result of a colossal and tragic miscalculation."

Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the overall Appropriations Committee, was even harsher. Mr. Obey, who has been in the House since 1969, said he bitterly recalled the "arrogance" of the senior officials in Lyndon B. Johnson's White House.

"They were as arrogant as they were wrong," he said. Now, Mr. Obey said, "I see that same kind of intellectual arrogance on the part of a number of people in the administration, especially the White House and the Pentagon civilian leadership."