Man Without Qualities

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Who's Twisting?

The Associated Press reports:

President Bush ... twisted his rival's words on Iraq and made Kerry seem supportive of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

What form did the "twisting" take?
[The President] stated flatly that Kerry had said earlier in the week "he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today." ...But Kerry never said that. ... [H]e called Saddam "a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell." He added, "The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

But the President didn't purport to quote Senator Kerry. And no sensible person in Mr. Bush's audience thought that the President was quoting Senator Kerry when the Mr. Bush asserted "he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein ...," unless the Senator has garnered a reputation for referring to himself in the third person (which, come to think of it, might not be shocking in Mr. Kerry's case - but that's another story) Mr. Bush was purporting to explain the likely meaning and implications of the Senator's words.

The AP also charges Mr. Bush with "twisting" Senator Kerry's reference to an alliance of "the coerced and the bribed" when the President cited that reference to support his argument: "You can't build alliances if you criticize the efforts of those who are working side by side with you." The AP says that was "twisting:"
Kerry did use the phrase to describe the U.S.-led coalition of nations in Iraq, in a March 2003 speech in California. He was referring to the administration's willingness to offer aid to other nations to gain support for its Iraq policies.

Was Mr. Bush "twisting" as the AP asserts? Ultimately, that's for the reader to decide. But the AP seems frightened to let that happen, and its own take seems partisan and tendentious, at best. With respect to the "bribed/coerced" matter, Senator Kerry's actual comment is reported here by the leftish-leaning Des Moines Register:
Kerry said during the speech at the downtown Marriott Hotel that Bush has been impatient, which has cost the U.S. support from its allies. "The greatest position of strength is by exercising the best judgement in the pursuit of diplomacy," he said, "not in some trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted, but in a genuine coalition."

The AP reads (but does not quote) that comment to refer only to a putative Bush Administration policy and not to the actual, current Iraq coalition. But Senator Kerry does seem to be talking about the actual coalition the Administration has ended up with by being "impatient" - which is just what Mr. Bush said. And to drive the point that he dismisses this actual coalition, John Kerry has said:
This president has done it wrong every step of the way. He promised that he would have a real coalition. He has a fraudulent coalition.
Similarly, is it true that Senator Kerry substantively "would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today?" Most people would say that Mr. Bush's charge is true if a President Kerry would not have actually launched an invasion of Iraq under any realistic circumstances. Is that right? After all, Senator Kerry did vote to authorize President Bush to launch this invasion, and Senator Kerry does sometimes suggest that he would not have launched an invasion unless what he calls a "legitimate coalition" had been formed. But it's pretty clear those circumstances as he is now conceiving them could never realistically have been satisfied:
"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." ... He called the president's talk about a coalition fighting alongside about 125,000 U.S. troops "the phoniest thing I've ever heard."
What is a "legitimate coalition" in the Senator's view? Well, certainly not one in which the participants are to be treated better that non-participants - that would be "the alliance of the coerced and the bribed." And members of a "legitimate coalition" can't just send a relatively few soldiers, since Senator Kerry has also intoned about the current coalition:
"You've 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," he said. "It's the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time."
From what we now know, it's preposterous to imagine that France, Germany and Russia could have been persuaded not only to participate in an invading or occupying coalition in which they received no favorable terms, but to send a lot of their troops as Senator Kerry indicates is necessary in his mind for a "legitimate coalition." [UPDATE:For example, the Financial Times reports: French and German government officials say they will not significantly increase military assistance in Iraq even if John Kerry, the Democratic presidential challenger, is elected on November 2.] So the bottom line seems pretty clear: No "legitimate coalition" could ever have realistically been formed. So there is no realistic possibility that a President Kerry would ever have launched an invasion of Iraq. In other words, under any realistic set of circumstances, John Kerry would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today. And that is true even though Senator Kerry also thinks that Saddam was "a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell."

Doesn't seem like the President is "twisting" John Kerry's words to me, but the reader should consider what both men have said. I suggest ignoring the AP gloss - that is twisting.

Personally, I think that John Kerry's words are twisted enough already without any need for further rotation.

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