Kerry has never wavered from his support for giving Bush authority to use force in Iraq, nor has he changed his position that he, as President, would not have gone to war without greater international support. But a Bush ad released Sept. 27 takes many of Kerry's words out of context to make him appear to be alternately praising the war and condemning it.
Here we present this highly misleading ad, along with what Kerry actually said, in full context.
Kerry is shown saying it was "the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein." What's left out is that he prefaced that by saying Bush should have made greater use of diplomacy to accomplish that.
The quote is from May 3, 2003, at the first debate among Democratic presidential contenders, barely three weeks after the fall of Baghdad. The question was from ABC's George Stephanopoulos:
Q: And Senator Kerry, the first question goes to you. On March 19th, President Bush ordered General Tommy Franks to execute the invasion of Iraq. Was that the right decision at the right time?
Kerry: George, I said at the time I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity, but I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the President made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm him.
(Note: We have added the emphasis in these and the following quotes to draw attention to the context left out by the Bush ad.)
The full "right decision" quote is actually quite consistent with the next Kerry quote, "I don't believe the President took us to war as he should have," which is from an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" program Jan. 6, 2004:
Q: Do you think you belong to that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war, the way it's been fought, along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt? Are you one of the anti-war candidates?
Kerry: I am -- Yes, in the sense that I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes, absolutely. Do I think this president violated his promises to America? Yes, I do, Chris.
Q: Let me...
Kerry: Was there a way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable? You bet there was, and we should have done it right.
When Kerry said "the winning of the war was brilliant" he wasn't praising Bush for waging the war, he was praising the military for the way they accomplished the mission. He also repeated his criticism of Bush for failing to better plan for what came next. This was also on "Hardball," May 19:
Q: All this terrorism. If you were president, how would you stop it?
Kerry: Well, it's going to take some time to stop it, Chris, but we have an enormous amount of cooperation to build one other countries. I think the administration has not done enough of the hard work of diplomacy, reaching out to nations, building the kind of support network.
I think they clearly have dropped the ball with respect to the first month in the after -- winning the war. That winning of the war was brilliant and superb, and we all applaud our troops for doing what they did, but you've got to have the capacity to provide law and order on the streets and to provide the fundamentally services, and I believe American troops will be safer and America will pay less money if we have a broader coalition involved in that, including the United Nations.
When Kerry called Iraq "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time" he was once again criticizing Bush for failing to get more international support before invading Iraq. He criticized Bush for what he called a "phony coalition" of allies:
Kerry (Sept 6, 2004): You've got about 500 troops here, 500 troops there, and it's American troops that are 90 percent of the combat casualties, and it's American taxpayers that are paying 90 percent of the cost of the war . . . It's the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Earlier that same day at another campaign appearance he repeated pretty much what he's said all along:
Kerry (Sept 6, 2004): "I would not have done just one thing differently than the president on Iraq, I would have done everything differently than the president on Iraq. I said this from the beginning of the debate to the walk up to the war. I said, 'Mr. President, don't rush to war, take the time to build a legitimate coalition and have a plan to win the peace."
Nine months of fruitless searching have gone by since Kerry said on Dec. 14, 2003 that weapons of mass destruction might yet be found in Iraq. But what's most misleading about the Bush ad's editing is that it takes that remark out of a long-winded -- but still consistent -- explanation of Kerry's overall position on Iraq:
The exchange was on Fox News Sunday, with host Chris Wallace:
Q: But isn't it, in a realistic political sense going to be a much harder case to make to voters when you have that extraordinary mug shot of Saddam Hussein...looking like he's been dragged into a police line-up?
Kerry: Absolutely not, because I voted to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. I knew we had to hold him accountable. There's never been a doubt about that. But I also know that if we had done this with a sufficient number of troops, if we had done this in a globalized way, if we had brought more people to the table, we might have caught Saddam Hussein sooner. We might have had less loss of life. We would be in a stronger position today with respect to what we're doing.
Look, again, I repeat, Chris, I have always said we may yet even find weapons of mass destruction. I don't know the answer to that. We will still have to do the job of rebuilding Iraq and resolving the problem between Shias and Sunnis and Kurds. There are still difficult steps ahead of us.
The question that Americans want to know is, what is the best way to proceed? Not what is the most lonely and single-track ideological way to proceed. I believe the best way to proceed is to bring other countries to the table, get some of our troops out of the target, begin to share the burden.
The final quote is the one in which the Bush ad takes its best shot. Kerry not only said it, he did it. He voted for an alternative resolution that would have approved $87 billion in emergency funds for troops and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was conditioned on repealing much of Bush's tax cuts, and it failed 57-42. On the key, up-or-down vote on the $87 billion itself Kerry was only one of 12 senators in opposition, along with the man who later become his running mate, Sen. John Edwards.
It's not only Bush who criticizes Kerry's inconsistency on that vote. Rival Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, a senator who also had voted to give Bush authority to use force in Iraq, said: "I don't know how John Kerry and John Edwards can say they supported the war but then opposed the funding for the troops who went to fight the war that the resolution that they supported authorized." Lieberman spoke at a candidate debate in Detroit Oct. 26, 2003.
Another Democratic rival who criticized Kerry for that vote was Rep. Dick Gephardt, who said beforehand that he would support the $87 billion "because it is the only responsible course of action. We must not send an ambiguous message to our troops, and we must not send an uncertain message to our friends and enemies in Iraq."
But aside from the $87 billion matter, this Bush ad is a textbook example of how to mislead voters through selective editing.
"Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Sponsored by ABC News," Federal News Service, 3 May 2003.
"Interview with John Kerry," MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews, 6 Jan 2004.
"Interview with John Kerry," MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews, 19 May 2004.
Lois Romano and Paul Farhi, "Kerry Attacks Bush on Handling of Iraq," The Washington Post 7 Sep 2004: A8.
Calvin Woodward, "Kerry Slams 'Wrong War in the Wrong Place,'" The Associated Press , 6 Sep 2004.
Fox News Sunday, "Interview with John Kerry," 14 December 2003.
Adam Nagourney and Diane Cardwell, "Democrats in Debate Clash Over Iraq War," New York Times, 27 Oct 2003: A1.
Joe Klein, "Profiles in Convenience," Time magazine, 19 Oct 2003.