With all the coverage of recent Kerry interviews, in is interesting to look back at what Kerry said when asked about the war during the campaign. John Kerry was interviewed by Chris Matthews on October 20, 2003. For those who don’t have the patience to wade through all of Matthews’ questions, one key point is that when Matthews asks “Were we right to have gone to war?” Kerry’s answer is no.
MATTHEWS: My second question concerns Howard Dean. Let’s to go my first question. It is so abrupt. Were we right to go to Iraq?
KERRY: Not the way the president did it. Clearly, no, because he didn’t plan for how to win the peace. He didn’t build the kind of coalition he said he would. He didn’t keep his promises to the American people.
He promised he would respect the U.N. He promised he would, in fact, build an international coalition and he promised he would go to war as a last resort. And, Chris, one of the great lessons I learned in Vietnam is the meaning of the words “last resort.”
I think the test for a president as to whether or not you send young men or women anywhere to fight is whether you can look in the eyes of parents-if you lose one of them-and say to those parents, I tried to do everything in my power to avoid this happening to your child. But we had no choice for the security of our country. I believe the president of the United States fails that test in Iraq.
Later Matthews asked more about the positions of other Democrats:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you. Howard Dean is opposed to going to Iraq.
He’s simple. Absolutely, bottom line, against the war.
KERRY: Well, he’s not, actually….
MATTHEWS: Joe Lieberman is for the war. Dick Gephardt is for the war, John Edwards sat right there last week and he is still for the war despite the bad intelligence he got. He says, “I’m still for the war.” How are you different than Dean on this issue?
KERRY: Let me correct you. Howard Dean is not clear and he is not simple. He has, in fact, embraced several positions. One of which is the Biden-Lugar amendment which, in fact, gave authorization to the president but under a slightly different wrinkle than the one we passed. Howard Dean also said he believed there were weapons of mass destruction. He believed that Colin Powell was correct.
Now the question that has to be asked is, once you’ve come to that conclusion, what are you going to do about it?
What you should do about it is precisely what I and Tom Harkin and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and a whole bunch of us thought we should do. Which is, go to the United Nations. Properly go through the inspection process. Build a legitimate international coalition and, in fact, exhaust the remedies available to you. And if you need to go to war, you go to war because you have a sense that the country has come to the point where it has no other option.
I don’t believe the president did that.
MATTHEWS: Would you have gone to war if the French had said under no circumstances we would go to war with you?
KERRY: I would do whatever is necessary to protect the security of the United States.
MATTHEWS: We’re going in circles here.
KERRY: No, we’re not going in circles.
MATTHEWS: In retrospective, Dean says, I think it was wrong to go to war. In retrospect, Lieberman says we were right to go to war. Dick Gephardt says we were right to go to war. John Edwards says we’re right to go to war. General Clark says we’re not right to get to war-go to war. Where are you in that-with that kind of clarity?
KERRY: I just answered-I answered your question.
MATTHEWS: Were we right to have gone to war?
KERRY: I answered your question right up front. I said to you….
MATTHEWS: Well, yes or no?
KERRY: I said no. Not under the circumstances he went. I told you that, Chris.
MATTHEWS: So were we wrong to go to Iraq in war?
KERRY: The way the president did it, yes.
MATTHEWS: What was the right way to go to war?
KERRY: As a last resort, when you exhaust the remedies available to you and you have proven that you have to do it because there is no other alternative.
In other words, in Iraq, we had a legitimate threat, according to every intelligence indicator we were given. But we hadn’t built the coalition. We didn’t have a plan to win the peace. The president rushed to war. I said so at the time. I said I would have preferred that he did more diplomacy. I don’t know how you can be more clear than that.
MATTHEWS: Well, because, you know, when you came back from fighting in Vietnam, so nobly and courageously, and you had been honored for your service to your country, and you come back and-you said you were leading up Vietnam veterans against the war. You were clear cut then.
I don’t hear that clarity in your answer right now-the clarity of being for or against the damn war.
KERRY: Well, Chris, God bless you, but I have to tell you, man, sometimes in foreign policy, certain things are complicated. Life is complicated. And the fact is, that there was a legitimate rationale for the United States to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, but there was every reason in the world to hold him in the world to hold him accountable properly.
Now, you know, Joe Lieberman was prepared to go under any circumstance. I wasn’t. The president evidently was too. I wasn’t. I thought we had to build the consent and legitimacy of the American people and I remember that because of my fight in Vietnam. I remember it because we had a divided nation. I remember what happens when you lose the consent of your nation fighting a war.
KERRY: But it is perfectly legitimate too-in fact, in 1998, when Bill Clinton was president, and Saddam Hussein brought the wall down on the inspectors and Clinton brought them out so he could bomb, I said at that time, together with Chuck Hagel and John McCain, that the president should have taken the issue to the United Nations; that we should have been prepared to have a legitimate force in order to get him to live to his agreements.
So there was always legitimacy to living up to the agreements. And it was appropriate for a president, and that’s why I voted for him…
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this….
KERRY: ..to hold him accountable.
MATTHEWS: To try sharpen your position so we all come out of this room knowing your position. Had you been president earlier this year when they went up against the blank-the stonewall at the U.N.. and the U.N., and the Security Council, the Russians and the French, did not go along with the war, what would you have done differently than the president did? At that point, would you have said another two months I’ll argue with you guys? I’ll try to hold a carrot or a stick out to you and the French and try to get them to board? Or would you have finally said, I’m tired of waiting for the French. We’re going alone in our national interest.
What would you have done?
KERRY: I would have done exactly what I said at the time, which is we should have pursued more diplomacy at the time to exhaust the remedies. And Chris…
MATTHEWS: It’s now October. How-would you still be exhausting the remedies now?
KERRY: Why not?
MATTHEWS: OK. That’s a position. I didn’t know you would go this long.
KERRY: Why not?
MATTHEWS: Would you have gone all these months?
KERRY: Why not? Absolutely. It’s cool in the fall as much as it is in the spring.
MATTHEWS: So you would have waited at least a year.
KERRY: I would have done-no, Chris, I would have done what was necessary to know that you had exhausted the available remedies with the French and the Russians.
MATTHEWS: The French said this week they will not send troop or spend a dollar in Iraq. It’s clear the French don’t go along with this war.
KERRY: And I understand why they won’t right now. And I’m not going to give them a veto, Chris. And I wouldn’t have given them a veto then.
But I talked to Kofi Annan on the Sunday before the president decided to go to war. And I knew at that moment in time that the Russians and the French were prepared to, in fact, make a further offer. And the administration, in fact, informed Kofi Annan, Sorry, the time for diplomacy is over.
Had I been president of the United States, I would have explored what those possibilities were.
MATTHEWS: Let’s take a look at your position. Because of all the candidates, you were the most foresightful, I thought, in seeing the troubles of occupation.
This is what you said a year ago when we sat around a group like this at the Citadel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: I’m prepared to go. I think people understand that Saddam Hussein is a danger. But you want to go maximizing your capacity for victory, not beginning with deficits. That’s one of the lessons of Vietnam. The war will not just be the military operation to move the regime out and to take Baghdad. The war will be an ongoing process of how you then rebuild the country. How you build the democracy in a place that’s never had it, in a place where violence is the tradition. And that is the challenge for awful us. I want to think it through, Chris, so no one has to ask the question, was this a mistake?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You saw, sir, the violence coming.
MATTHEWS: You recognized that this would not an lickety spit war, blitz war. That even after the aircraft carrier and all the celebrations, there would be fighting at us, there’d be people shooting at us, and American soldiers being killed as they were just yesterday, two more guys.
Knowing all that, why do you have a complaint now in the way that the occupation is being handled? Since you perhaps more than the president saw the hell to come.
KERRY: Because the president is not putting in place a policy that most, exactly what I just said, maximizes our ability to be successful. Maximizes the protections of the American troop. Look I remember what it is like to be in a country with an M-16 where everybody around you is looking at you and you can’t tell whether they’re about to kill you or not. Whether there’s a kid going to walk out and throw a satchel of explosives in your boat or car or whatever it is. And I foresaw this. And I said to the president in January, Mr. President, don’t rush to war. Take the time to build a coalition. Take the time to have countries with you. Take the time to have our nation with you. Because if the going gets tough, that’s when it is most difficult. My judgment is that the president rushed this with all the wrong assumptions, with all the wrong conclusions, and didn’t lead in the way that a president is supposed to lead.
Now my position, I know what people say. My position could not be more clear. For 7-1/2 years, we found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. For 7-1/2 year, we destroyed them with Ambassador Butler. We found more chemical and biological weapons than we thought he had. We found he was further down the road to the creation of nuclear weapon than we thought he was. Then the wall come down and for four year, there are no inspections. We’re given information by our CIA, that says here’s what’s happening in this building, senator. Here are the photographs much this is what our intelligence is telling us. I thought the responsible thing to do for our country was to force Saddam Hussein to accept the inspectors and to have the threat of force. It was right vote but the president did it in the wrong way and he is still doing it in the wrong way.
MATTHEWS: More on Iraq when we come back and whether it might have been an historic mistake or not. And big question about North Korea and Iraq.