The gullible Mr. Kerry.

The gullible Mr. Kerry.

The gullible Mr. Kerry.

A wartime lexicon.
June 24 2003 12:19 PM

The Gullible Mr. Kerry

The senator gets fooled again.

John Kerry
More knave or fool?

So, the junior senator from Massachusetts has finally come up with a winning line. "Vote for me," says John Kerry. "I'm easily fooled." This appears to be the implication of his claim to have been "misled" by the Bush administration in the matter of WMD. And, considering the way in which Democratic Party activists generally portray the president as a fool and an ignoramus, one might as well go the whole distance and suggest a catchy line for the campaign: "Kerry. Duped by a Dope."

Given that Kerry once went all the way to Vietnam under some kind of misapprehension about a war for democracy and launched a political career on the basis of what he finally learned when it was much too late, one might be tempted to discern a pattern here. But that temptation should probably be discarded. The Tonkin Gulf resolution was fabricated out of whole cloth (by a Democratic president, building on the legacy of another JFK from Massachusetts), and not even the most Stalinized of the Vietnamese leadership ever ran a regime, or proposed an ideology, as vile as that of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, Ho Chi Minh in 1945 modeled his declaration of independence on the words of Thomas Jefferson, appealed for American help against France, and might have got it if FDR had lived. Uncle Ho shared in the delusion that there could be an anti-colonial and anti-dictatorial empire. If that is indeed a delusion. …

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Returning to the banality of Kerry and the simplistic yes/no argument about weaponry, the evidence that the Bush/Blair team was exaggerating or inflating the WMD issue was available long before the, er, lull in inspections that has now befallen us. And it was made available to Kerry, too, as a very mordant article on the Net by his constituent Charles Jenks has recently shown. Thus, for the senator to say that he was deceived along with "all of us" is provably false. He is now belatedly entering the ranks of those who claim never to have been fooled in the first place.

Kerry thus joins the phalanx of a rather dubious movement: those who would have left the whole issue of Saddam Hussein alone had Bush not chosen to raise it. This is the whole nub or crux or subtext of the present recriminations. There were those who favored regime change in Iraq in any case, and who thought that the WMD argument would serve as a mobilizing tool. And there were those who opposed regime change in Iraq who would not now change their minds if all the specified weapons had actually been found. (One knows this about the most prominent of the anti-war spokesmen, not only because one knows them but because they continue to carp about the interventions in Afghanistan and Kosovo and Bosnia, even though the evidence against al-Qaida and the Taliban and Milosevic continues to outpace what was known at the time. It seems only yesterday that the "anti-war" forces were complaining about the paucity of mass graves in Kosovo.) Both sides at different times overstated the immediacy of the problem: the administration by rushing into print with some recycled crap and the anti-warriors by scare-mongering that a confrontation with Saddam would bring on a WMD apocalypse.

In between these two forces were those who acted as if they had no minds of their own, and no independent sources of information. "Convince me," said Tom Daschle and his weathervane crew. "Make the case," implored various others. The eerie thing about this position was its indifference. All right, it seemed to say, if the president wants it so very badly. But if it was left to us, we'd have let the sleeping dog of Saddam Hussein lie.

Kerry, to take the nearest and most recent example of this mindset, was once an active-duty officer and once chaired a Senate investigation into skullduggery in Central America. Could he not have decided to inform himself and reach some conclusions of his own about the possibility of continued coexistence with the Saddam regime? Did he have to wait for permission to think, let alone permission to speak? Does he only turn his attention to these matters when there is a "drumbeat"? And when does he decide that the evidence is all in? When he votes in the Senate on a major resolution? Or when he looks at the shifts of opinion among core Democratic voters?

He could easily turn out to have been wrong twice: It is amazingly unlikely that the Saddam regime had no plan to preserve or restart its long-standing WMD scheme, though the evidence for this may involve some complex study and not take a "gotcha" or "smoking gun" form.

The overwhelming consensus among inspectors and monitors, including Hans Blix's sidekick Mohammed ElBaradei, is now to the effect that Iran's mullahs have indeed been concealing an enriched-uranium program. For good measure, it is a sure thing that they are harboring al-Qaida activists on their territory. Will the "peace" camp ever admit that Bush was right about this? Or about the "evil" of North Korea: a demented starvation regime now threatening to export ready-to-use nuclear weapons (which Saddam Hussein, say, might have been interested in buying)? Don't make me laugh: The furthest the peaceniks will go is to say that Bush's rhetoric made these people turn nasty. I am not teasing here: The best of the anti-war polemicists is Jonathan Schell, who advanced this very claim in a debate with me earlier this month. Meanwhile, the overwhelming moral case for regime change in both countries is once again being left to the forces of neoconservatism, with the liberals pulling a long face while they wait to be reluctantly "persuaded."

This is serious stuff and will engage us for a long time. Meanwhile we have learned that Sen. Kerry considers himself to be gullible both ways, which ought to mean that he is ineligible for the nomination, let alone the presidency.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.