What is Kerry's position on the Iraq war?

Politics and policy.
Aug. 12 2004 6:36 PM

Would Kerry Vote Today for the Iraq War?

No.

Why won't he just tell us?
Why won't he just tell us? 

Last Friday, President Bush challenged Sen. John Kerry: "My opponent hasn't answered the question of whether, knowing what we know now, he would have supported going into Iraq." On Monday, pressed by a reporter to answer Bush, Kerry said, "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right. Follow him on Twitter.

Bush argues that this is yet another Kerry flip-flop and that Kerry now endorses Bush's war. At a campaign rally on Tuesday, Bush asserted,

My opponent has found a new nuance. He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Senator Kerry now agrees with me that even though we have not found the stockpile of weapons we believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power.

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Does Kerry now agree with Bush's decision? Would Kerry have gone into Iraq? Would he have voted to give Bush the authorization had Kerry known what he now knows about the absence of WMD and about how Bush would use the authorization?

The answer, if you look closely at Kerry's statements over the past three years, is no. But Kerry refuses to make this clear, so let's go to the videotape—specifically, a 12-minute videotape of Kerry's statements, compiled by the Republican National Committee and posted on the Web. These statements, in the RNC's judgment, make the strongest case that Kerry has flip-flopped on Iraq.

The first significant clip shows Kerry on The O'Reilly Factor on Dec. 11, 2001. "We ought to put the heat on Saddam Hussein," he says. Kerry adds that when U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler provided evidence that inspections should continue, "I criticized the Clinton administration for backing off of the inspections."

Summary: Kerry wants pressure and inspections.

The next significant clip shows Kerry on Hardball on Feb. 5, 2002. The host, Chris Matthews, asks Kerry whether Iraq "can be reduced to a diplomatic problem—can we get this guy to accept inspections of those weapons of mass destruction potentially and get past a possible war with him?" Kerry answers: "Outside chance, Chris. Could it be done? The answer is yes. He would view himself only as buying time and playing a game, in my judgment. Do we have to go through that process? The answer is yes."

Summary: Kerry doubts Iraq would comply with inspections, but he thinks we have to go through the process of trying.

The next significant quote comes from Kerry's speech to the Democratic Leadership Council on July 29, 2002. "I agree completely with this administration's goal of a regime change in Iraq," Kerry says. He calls Saddam a "renegade" who has betrayed the terms of his 1991 cease-fire. However, the RNC omits Kerry's next two sentences: "But the Administration's rhetoric has far exceeded their plans or their groundwork. In fact, their single-mindedness, secrecy, and high-blown rhetoric has alienated our allies and threatened to unravel the stability of the region."