Monday, August 16, 2004

Did Bush's Iraq Question Backfire?

George Bush tried to get an advangtage over John Kerry over the IWR vote. While Kerry's position on Iraq has been consistent and makes perfect sense, I cannot argue with those who say Kerry has often struggled with explaining this point when forced to do so briefly. See my earlier blog entry on this question for background on Kerry's positon:

At first George Bush seemed to have won some debating ponts by misrepresenting Kerry's answer, claiming Kerry said he would have voted to go to war, when actually Kerry voted to authorize war as a last resort if we were proven to be endangered and diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation failed. With the short attention span of reporters, if not the public, it is no surprise that many prefered Bush's easier to say account rather than Kerry's actual answer.

Bush may have gained some points before his selectively chosen rally crowds, but it is not as clear that he has done so with the general public. What Bush fails to understand is that many voters have ambiguous and contradictory views of their own on the war, balancing the feelings that it was good to get rid of Saddam,and important to stand up to tyrants if they should threaten us with WMD, but questioning if Bush acted honestly or in the best way. While Bush has managed to fool many into believing Kerry is a flip flopper, in doing so he has reinforced the view that he is overly ideological and inflexible.

Note this view from Ron Brownstein of the LA Times:,1,5024801.column?coll=la-news-a_section

Pointing Out Kerry's Reluctance on Iraq May Spotlight Bush's Rigidity
Ronald Brownstein

August 16, 2004

There's something kamikaze about the past week's skirmishing between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry over Iraq.

By challenging Kerry to say whether he too would have invaded Iraq, Bush has targeted what may be Kerry's greatest weakness with voters: a reputation for vacillation and hairsplitting.

But Bush simultaneously may be spotlighting what many voters like least about him: a reluctance to change course even amid changing circumstances and a belief in his own decisions so unwavering that it straddles the line between confidence and arrogance.

Fareed Zakaria writes in the August 23 issue of Newsweek about Why Kerry Is Right on Iraq, available on line at:

Zakaria doesn't entirely understand Kerry's position, but does understand the importance of nuance and looking at the underlying assumptions behind each positon as he writes:

Kerry's answer is that it was a worthwhile objective but was disastrously executed. For this "nuance" Kerry has been attacked from both the right and the left. But it happens to be the most defensible position on the subject.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Ron (From Robert G. Oler)

Did Bush's Iraq Question Backfire? <<

First let me say that you are an interesting, smart guy who its fun sparing with. I've read the book "Execution" (the one referenced in the article and I enjoy robust dialogue with bright people.

JK is right in that the Iraq question is nuanced. Bush's going into Iraq, at least for the reasons he stated were wrong then, now, and will be forever as long as the US is the kind of nation it was before 9/11. Preemption is not a failed doctrine its more or less "evil". The last guys to practice it, the Japanese had some of their leaders condemned as war criminals for much the same logic that was used in Iraq (and actually the US did pose a threat to the Japanese).

Fareed is right that a case can be made for "regime change". Its the doctrine of failed soverignty; when does a government both lose enough of its popular support AND threaten the stability of its neighbors to be "removed"? Molosovich crossed that threshold (but it took him sometime to get there) and that is what brought OAF.

Had Saddam crossed it? I believe so, in fact I think he walked over that line in 1991 and would have supported going all the way to Baghdad (as a note I was ready to be one of the first planes to land at baghdad!).

That of course is not why Shrub took us to war, beat the drum for it even though I am quite certian that along with his goofy concept of freedom everywhere is why we went there. I figured they would screw up the peace (and have the blog post to prove it) but it was hard to anticipate it would be this bad. Although when Shinseki (who I have the greatest respect for...he is a neat guy) got axed you sort of knew a fiasco was coming.

Having said all doesnt explain JK's vote. But it doesnt matter.

Last night I got the full paddlebacks for the Zogby and Gallup poll as well as some stuff the RNC has done. This week the campaign turned a corner. There are possibly more corners to turn but absent any more JK is going to be the Next President of the US.

The horse race is still to close and its not so much JK winning as it is Shrub just flat starting to fall through the floor. The internals are going south for him both in the general polls but also in the more detailed poll of the "swing" voters.

Zogby in particular did some very good work in trying to identify the "swing" and its all going the wrong way for Shrub. We are sort of replaying the 1980 election. Both bad decisions and events (some caused by them) are conspiring to paint a picture of an administration that is not in control of much.

JK has to make the sale and that is the debates...but the campaign's decision to look presidential above all else....thats whats going to swing the swing. IN 1980 Reagan by October looked like a viable choice to replace Carter and even people who did not agree with his positions didnt like the fact that things were "out of control". That perception is sinking in here.

Robert G. Oler

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A PS after rereading a couple of times my post.

If this is the "corner" I think it is my prediction is that the Shrub campaign is going to rue the day that the Swift Boat ad ran.

There are a couple of reasons...but it is the mass that I think tipped the scales.

Robert G. Oler

8:41 AM  
Blogger Ron Chusid said...

I agree that the swift boat attacks are likely to backfire against Bush. Many on the right are emailing them and talking about it, but these are people who would never have voted for Kerry.

For undecided people there are a number of possible reactions. Most of these do not help Bush.

Maybe some will believe the ads and see them as reason not to vote for Kerry.

Others might question if Kerry deserved his medals, but not see this as relevant to this year's election.

Bring up Vietnam can backfire by reminding people of Bush's background.

Running a dishonest ad could reflect on Bush's character--and rightly so.

Going negative often backfires. To protect against this, Bush is now on record (on Larry King) as saying positive things about Kerry's war record, possibly turning the incidnet into a plus for Kerry.

The big news lately has, unfortunatley, not been on issues, but on the swift boat ads and the Iraq question. Per above it is questionable how much harm the swift boat ads will do. Per the main blog post, the initial negative publicity for Kerry on Bush's Iraq question is now changing and the outcome is unclear. It is questionable if either of these issues will convnce most voters, who are more swayed by the economy, health care, and the overall failure of Bush's foreign policy. The more the Bush campaign relies on their smear campaigns, the less they are campaigning on the issues possibly making it less likey they will change the dynamics of the race which are working against Bush.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Ron Chusid said...

From Salon's War Room:

Bush's slippery spin on Kerry's Iraq views

For a week now, George W. Bush has been delighting his audiences with a new riff on John Kerry's Iraq views. "Almost two years after he voted for the war in Iraq, and almost 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the antiwar candidate, my opponent has found a new nuance," Bush says. "He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq."

Even by this White House's sorry standards for truthfulness, the Bush bit on Kerry is extraordinary: It's false four times over. Let's break it down.

"Almost two years after he voted for the war in Iraq . . ." John Kerry never "voted for the war on Iraq." In October 2002, he voted for a resolution that authorized Bush to use force in Iraq if -- and only if -- the president determined it necessary to defend U.S. national security and to enforce United Nations resolutions.

Although he chooses to ignore it now, Bush certainly seemed to understand the conditional nature of the Senate vote when it was made. The day before the Senate voted, Bush said the resolution meant that the Iraqi government "must disarm and comply with existing U.N. resolutions, or it will be forced to comply." The day the Senate voted, Bush said the Senate had authorized "the use of force, if necessary." While Bush may have known that he was going to invade Iraq no matter what, that's not what Bush said, it's not what the resolution said, and it's not what Kerry voted for.

" . . . and almost 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the antiwar candidate . . . " Kerry never declared himself "the antiwar candidate." Bush is referring to an appearance Kerry made on "Hardball" on Jan. 6, 2004. Chris Matthews asked Kerry, "Do you think you belong in 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 antiwar candidates?" Kerry's response: "I am. Yes. In the sense that I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes. Absolutely."

The Bush-Cheney campaign seems to understand that the question Matthews actually asked and the answer Kerry actually gave don't support their flip-flop claim. Thus, when the campaign released a video on Kerry's "flip-flops" on Iraq, it edited down the exchange so it looks like this. Matthews: "Are you one of the antiwar candidates?" Kerry: "I am. Yes." Last night on "Hardball," Bush strategist Matthew Dowd defended the campaign's editing efforts, telling Matthews: “You asked John Kerry a yes or no question. And he said ‘yes, absolutely.’”

Matthews didn't buy it. “Is the president going to keep saying that something that was said on this show wasn‘t said? Would you like to have your sentences cut down like to a third of their length and let people decide on the first three or four words what you meant by the 20 words? I think you guys should consider taking this off your loop. I think the president ought to be shown this tape so he knows what he‘s talking about, instead of having it fed to him by somebody who doesn‘t show [him the] full sentence.”

" . . . my opponent has found a new nuance . . ." There is nothing "new" about Kerry's position on Iraq. Bush is referring here to Kerry's Aug. 9 statement in which he said that, even knowing what he knows today, he would have voted in favor of the October 2002 resolution, but that he would have used the authority it gave the president "very differently" than the way Bush did.

That's almost exactly what Kerry has said about his vote any number of times before. In an interview in Salon in May, for example, Kerry said: "My vote was the right vote. If I had been president, I would have wanted that authority to leverage the behavior that we needed. But I would have used it so differently than the way George Bush did." When Kerry made his statement at the Grand Canyon, at least some of the media recognized it for what it was: nothing new. CNN headlined the story: "Kerry stands by 'yes' vote on Iraq war." NPR said: "Kerry Reaffirms Iraq Stance at Grand Canyon Stop." That doesn't help Bush's flip-flop charge, so Kerry's consistent statement on Iraq somehow becomes a "nuance" that's "new."

"He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq." Kerry has not said that it was "the right decision to go into Iraq." Kerry said on Aug. 9 that he thought his vote on the 2002 resolution was the right one because it gave Bush "the right authority for the president to have. " Kerry said that Bush has used the authority in the wrong way. While one of Kerry's top national security advisors has said that Kerry "in all probability" would have gone to war in Iraq eventually, Kerry hasn't said that himself. Rather, Kerry says that Bush rushed into war "on faulty intelligence" and "without a plan to win the peace," that he misled the country "about how he would go to war," and that he has failed to persuade other countries to join the war effort.

Will any of this matter to the Bush-Cheney campaign? Probably not. While Bush and Cheney finally seem to have stopped spreading the phony claim that Kerry is the "most liberal" member of the U.S. Senate, the White House still hasn't condemned the misleading "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" ad that its backers are running. And on "Hardball" last night, Dowd gave no indication that the White House plans to back down from its slippery spin on Kerry's Iraq views.

For more articles on Kerry's position on Iraq, the fake swift boat attacks, and everything else related to the campaign, check out the Kerry 2004 Reference Library--now with over 700 entries and growing, at:

12:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home