I didn’t want to watch it. It was everything that I feared it would be…boring, excruciating, and mind-numbing. But nevertheless, I sat through almost the entire 90 minutes of the Presidential debate last Thursday evening and endured it all…the lies, the deceit, and the evasions. The viewers were exposed to so much toxic BS that I found myself scanning my living room for a HazMat suit.
While it may have been painful for me, the experience must have been positively agonizing for President Bush. He stood on the podium, dumb-founded, while John Kerry ripped his Iraq adventure to shreds. It didn’t appear that Bush had ever been aggressively exposed to a real dissection of his war up until this contest. He seemed to be angered that anyone could have the impudence to question his policies, much less excoriate them.
Again and again, Bush retaliated by accusing Kerry of vacillation of his opinions. As he did so, I kept being reminded of that famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a little mind." And President Bush is nothing if not consistent. It is inconceivable to me that anyone could still think that this invasion was a good idea. But apparently President Bush does.
Overall, I must confess to a certain schadenfreude during this whole affair. Seeing Bush squirm was my sole pleasure of the evening…one of the few that I’ve had since this awful campaign began.
Although watching Bush stumble and mumble may have been amusing, I was much more alarmed by Senator Kerry’s performance. I was awed by the ease with which he slithered around his past foreign policy positions and shed his skin to reveal a shiny new antiwar paint-job.
But we cannot allow ourselves to take our eyes off of the ball. Specifically, three issues surrounding Kerry’s debating points were most disturbing and need to be further examined.
#1 Where was Kerry when it mattered most?
As much as he may attempt to rationalize his actions, Senator Kerry voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution. Why he did so remains a matter of opinion. My hunch is that he opposed an attack on Iraq, but was intimidated by the overwhelming support that the invasion had amongst the post-9/11 masses. They were howling for blood, and Kerry was simply unwilling to stand up and speak the truth.
Leadership is about stating your convictions even when it hurts and even when it might be unpopular. In the months leading up to this war, America was in desperate need of a national political figure who was willing to lay his career on the line and speak out against this unfolding tragedy.
Senator Kerry was not that man. When the going got tough, he followed the path of least resistance.
And even more annoying, he has attempted to parse the issue of his vote with murky legalisms. He repeated his belief that prudence required that the president be given authority to invade Iraq, and he claims that he had no idea that Bush would attack with such haste and in such a reckless manner.
Everyone on the planet knew that Bush was champing at the bit to invade Iraq. And everyone knew that he was going to use the congressional resolution as political cover to do so. Kerry’s weasel-words notwithstanding, his explanation doesn’t hold water.
The time to stop this atrocity was before the invasion, before the deaths, and before the expenditure of hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money.
Kerry laid out a beautiful case for the inanity of the invasion, but he was a day late and a dollar short.
And furthermore, why does he still believe that Bush should have been given congressional authority to invade Iraq? Iraq did not attack America. Iraq was not threatening to attack America. Iraq was not involved in 9/11, and it had only tenuous connections to Islamist terror organizations.
Given these facts, by what standard does Kerry still believe that the war resolution was the right thing to do?
And this opens a Pandora’s Box of additional questions. Are there any other nations that Kerry thinks congress should permit the president to invade? Syria? Iran? North Korea? If the target of the war needs not be a direct threat to America, then exactly what criteria does Senator Kerry use to decide who gets invaded and who doesn’t? And why did he vote for a war resolution when he didn’t think that it should actually be carried out?
His entire approach to this issue is awash in non-sequiturs. He was molting and morphing right before our very eyes. Had it been about anything less crucial, it would have been funny.
#2 What’s the deal with Kerry’s alleged "plan"?
Despite long, entertaining dissertations on the foolishness of invading Iraq, Kerry does not really have any legitimate ideas on how to end the conflict. It is one thing to run from his war vote and trash Bush’s performance…but what are we going to do now?
The obvious answer, in my opinion, is to withdraw the troops immediately and allow the Iraqis to sort this mess out for themselves. The country may well fall apart, but our staying there will only continue to make the situation even worse.
But Kerry absolutely rejects a withdrawal. He stated flatly, "I’m not talking about leaving, I’m talking about winning."
But how does he define "win"?
Back in his anti-Vietnam War days, Kerry famously asked, "How do you ask men to continue to die for a mistake?" That is a very good question. If he now admits that this war is a debacle which was carried out under false pretenses, how can he rationalize keeping troops there even for another minute, much less into the indefinite future?
And since he discards the possibility of a withdrawal, what are his specific ideas about prosecuting the conflict?
The only things that I’ve heard from him are banalities that are already being tried by Bush. Kerry wants to bring more allies into the war. But France and Germany have already said that they will not send troops, regardless of who wins the election. Realistically, what sane nation would go there now given the situation on the ground? Kerry says he wants to train indigenous forces. But Bush is already doing that, albeit poorly. And it is doubtful that Kerry will be able to make these forces into any more of an efficient military than Bush has.
In essence, Kerry’s ideas are more of the same failed ones already being implemented by the president.
The bottom line is that if Kerry believes that the war is as big of a disaster as he vividly described on Thursday, then there is no legitimate moral justification for keeping our troops there. Period.
#3 Kerry is still an imperialist in sheep’s clothing
Senator Kerry spent most of the debate skewering Bush’s Iraq policy. But he also touched on several other brewing crises. Most specifically, he ruminated about the ongoing weapons programs in Iran and North Korea. While he was berating President Bush for not doing anything about these "rogue nations," I was left in a rhetorical whipsaw. How on earth can he complain about Bush invading Iraq, ostensibly to rid that nation of WMDs, and simultaneously clamor for urgent action to prevent Iran and North Korea from further developing these very same weapons?
He again lapsed into banalities about bilateral negotiations and sanctions, but does anyone really believe that North Korea cares about written agreements? If Kerry thinks that it is intolerable that these nations should develop WMDs, then exactly how does he plan to stop them if they ignore negotiations? Will he go to war? And if so, how does that make him different from Bush in Iraq?
In short, does Kerry believe that we have the right to invade sovereign nations on the suspicion of WMD development alone? If so, then how can he criticize Bush’s invasion of Iraq? If not, then how does he propose to stop these other nations from building the weapons that he has flatly stated they must not to be permitted to possess?
After moving on from WMDs, the issue of the Sudan appeared. Kerry was asked what, if anything, he thinks should be done about the ethnic conflict in Darfur. While expressing the usual hope that "US troops don’t need to go" and that the "African Union would take care of the situation," Kerry implied that he would send American troops to the Sudan if things deteriorated and no one else picked up the ball.
I nearly fell from my chair. Did we learn nothing in Somalia? How on earth can Kerry spend an hour trashing Bush for trying to "build democracy" in Iraq, and then quickly turn around and suggest the possibility of a "nation building" escapade in the Sudan?
And this is the ultimate crux of the matter. Neither of these candidates is opposed to overseas adventurism. As best I can tell, Kerry’s major complaint about Iraq is that it was a Republican who launched the war. Assertions of what is in the best interest of the American people have almost dropped off the radar screen entirely. Apparently, Kerry is OK with sending US troops into a Sudanese meat grinder if the excuses are more PC than Bush’s Iraq ones.
Near the end of the debate, Jim Lehrer asked both candidates what is the most urgent national security concern for the United States. Both men replied that it was the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
I disagree. From what I’ve seen over the past several years, the correct answer to that question is the insane ideology of military interventionism that has captivated the elites across both political parties. No Americans have died from nuclear or biological weapons. But this manic series of wars, either of the rightist/imperialist or the leftist/nanny-state variety, has already killed over 1000 Americans in Iraq, plus dozens more in Somalia, Panama, Haiti, etc… going all the way back to the 58,000 who fell in Vietnam. And there is no end in sight.
Regardless of who wins this election, the only certainty is that there will be continued war in various locales, and that American soldiers will continue to die even as America sinks into bankruptcy.
People shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that this election represents a season of renewal. Judging from what I saw in the debate, more of the same is on the way.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.