Out of the Question
Is Bush's biggest mistake too awful to admit?
But when Lehrer transposed Kerry's famous question—"Are Americans now dying in Iraq for a mistake?"—Kerry balked. "No, and they don't have to," Kerry replied. "We have to win this. The president and I have always agreed on that. And from the beginning, I did vote to give the authority, because I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat, and I did accept that intelligence."
It doesn't add up. Kerry said tonight that Iraq was a diversion from the war on terror. He said the WMD intelligence was wrong. He added, "Two-thirds of [Iraq] was a no-fly zone when we started this war. We would have had sanctions. We would have had the U.N. inspectors. Saddam Hussein would have been continually weakening." The logical upshot of these beliefs—and the evidence—is that Americans are dying in Iraq for a mistake.
Why won't Kerry say so? For the same reason Bush accuses him of saying so: Because we don't want to believe it. On this ultimate question, Kerry clings to Bush's wishful thinking. Tonight, Kerry vowed to prevail in Iraq "for those soldiers and for those families, for those kids who put their lives on the line. That is noble. That's the most noble thing that anybody can do. And I want to make sure the outcome honors that nobility."
"I believe that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right," Kerry said, explaining his vote against the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq. "That's what I learned in Vietnam. When I came back from that war, I saw that it was wrong. Some people don't like the fact that I stood up to say no, but I did. And that's what I did with that vote."
No, Senator. That isn't what you did with that vote. You haven't said no to the Iraq War as you did to the Vietnam War. And the reason is that this time, you're running for president.
But the greater shame belongs to the candidate who launched this war, refuses to admit his errors, and now holds the moral pride of his countrymen hostage, blackmailing them into shunning the truth. Tonight he scoffed, "If I were to ever say, 'This is the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place,' the troops would wonder, 'How can I follow this guy?' "
Exactly, Mr. President. If you were ever to give them the correct assessment, they would ask the correct question.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of George Bush by Jim Young/Reuters.