August 09, 2004

Review of John Kerry's acceptance speech, part two

So much to talk about! The jobs report issued this week is fairly pressing, and--believe it or don't--digested objectively, is reasonably good news despite CNN's gleeful shrieking to the contrary. But, before I fall to far behind the political curve, we continue with part two of our reasoned appeal to undecided voters, via a dissection of John Kerry's acceptance speech at the DNC.

Mine were greatest generation parents. And as I thank them, we all join together to thank that whole generation for making America strong, for winning World War II, winning the Cold War, and for the great gift of service which brought America fifty years of peace and prosperity.
This sweeps a lot of detail under the rug, and seems uncharacteristically oversimplified for the senator, but is necessary for the segue which follows. Lest we digress...
My parents inspired me to serve, and when I was a junior in high school, John Kennedy called my generation to service. It was the beginning of a great journey, a time to march for civil rights, for voting rights, for the environment, for women, and for peace. We believed we could change the world. And you know what? We did.

But we're not finished. The journey isn't complete. The march isn't over. The promise isn't perfected. ...

No, America isn't perfect. But it would be instructive to consider our present condition against the backdrop of the 1960s nation in which John Kennedy called for more civil rights, voting rights, the environment, women's rights, and peace. No serious commentator could dispute the progress made on all these issues during the past four decades as the most egregious offences have been quashed. Perhaps the senator acknowledges that these problems have been substantially ameliorated and no longer are our nation's highest priority, as he spent little time actually discussing these issues.

Tonight, we're setting out again. And together, we're going to write the next great chapter of America's story.

We have it in our power to change the world again. But only if we're true to our ideals and that starts by telling the truth to the American people. That is my first pledge to you tonight. As President, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.

This deserves some close attention.

These remarks would be fairly harsh language if taken to their logical conclusion rather than ending in a tantalizing implication. He presents an argument ("that starts by telling the truth to the American people") and his conclusion from that argument ("I will restore trust and credibility to the White House"). His conclusion necessarily implies that he be elected to replace the current occupant of the White House, and that our current President has either himself stripped the White House of its trust and credibility, or at least maintained such a preexisting condition.

The somewhat more damning sentence is the first, about "telling the truth" to the American people. His whole argument is nonsensical unless he suggests that President Bush has not only stripped the White House of its trust and credibility, but also has failed to tell the truth to the American people. These are serious charges, or used to be before Bill Clinton made apparent that truth telling in a sitting president was no longer an unambiguous job requirement.

So if Kerry suggests that President Bush has failed to tell the truth to the American people, he must therefore have been guilty of telling them an untruth: in the common parlance, a lie. In English we tend to reserve descriptive attributes such as "truth" and its opposite for matters of integrity, not accuracy. Statements which are believed to be accurate by one who speaks them, but which are later determined not to reflect actual facts are more politely referred to as "imprecise," "inaccuracte," "wrong" or "mistaken;" but never as "lies." It is common in English to attribute as a mitigating circumstance, when one has made a statement which later is shown to be wrong, to refer to "an honest mistake." Mistakes are made, and their committal does not impugn one's honor. It is the knowing, not the falsity, which we detest in one who knowingly makes false statements.

So Kerry clearly means to suggest that President Bush has knowingly made false statements to the American people, though he won't openly state it. He later says that he "will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war." This puts meat onto his previous implication, for now we have some specifics against which to test his (still not openly stated) suggestion that Bush is without honor. We will briefly examine those specifics presently.

But why all the circumlocution? If he believes President Bush lied, why not just say so? Why does the senator content himself with suggesting that President Bush has not told the truth, and doing so only via the logical context of the paragraph? Why imply that President Bush has stripped the White House of its trust and credibility, but never quite say so? Why use the word "mislead," (again without precisely attributing it to President Bush, only by implication) which can mean either to simply lead in the wrong direction, or to intentionally deceive? In context, it's clear which of these definitions Kerry would prefer we interpret, but he won't say so.

I, for one, would be very interested to know if the President actually lied to us, or was merely in error--but we've yet to examine the specifics of the claim, so we can't yet say for sure whether he even was in error and if it really matters. If John Kerry knows that the President lied to us, wouldn't he say so? Wouldn't it help his campaign if there was proof--even if he could say that proof existed, but it was classified--that Bush knowingly lied?

Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday spent some time last week trying hard to get Kerry to use the word "lie" if that was what he actually meant, and the senator went through some considerable verbal manuevers to avoid doing so:

WALLACE: You also said you will never mislead us into war and you will make sure that intelligence isn't distorted by politics.

That's getting awfully close to saying the president lied about Iraq.

KERRY: I've said many times that the president misled America.

WALLACE: Intentionally?

Wallace has asked a one-word question, with three possible one-word answers: yes, no, maybe. Kerry now gives a six-sentence answer which manages to entirely avoid answering.

KERRY: He misled us in what he said he would do in terms of how he would use the authority that we voted for in Congress. I voted for that authority.

And you go back and look at my speech — and I ask you to — I made it very clear what I was voting for.

And within the context of the president's promise, promise, to build an international coalition, not to go it alone, to exhaust the remedies of the United Nations, and to go to war as a last resort, Chris, we did not go to war as a last resort.

I know the difference, and so do most Americans. And we're now paying — we went to war without a plan to win the peace.

WALLACE: But when you say...

KERRY: We're paying a huge price for that.

WALLACE: But when you say intelligence distorted by politics...


WALLACE: ... are you saying that he intentionally misled us, he knew better?

Good for Chris Wallace. I find it troubling that politicians--from both parties--use practically any direct question they want as an invititation to deliver an unrelated free form soliloquy lasting several minutes. When I ask what the hell the government is doing with all the time and money on its hands, I'd like a direct answer. Wallace scores major points in my eyes for sticking around through the nonresponsive monologue, only to ask the same question again, more directly.

Kerry still won't answer it though, and spends five sentences talking about everything but his honest belief whether the President knowingly made false statements.

KERRY: I'm saying the administration made comments that they were warned and knew better in the making, and that's been now documented, about the nuclear materials that came from Africa.

There were statements made about the connections to Al Qaida. Many speeches were made about the war on terror and linking it to Saddam Hussein. At the time, the CIA themselves said there was no connection to September 11th of Iraq.

So what they did was they transferred the legitimate war against terror in Afghanistan and against Al Qaida to Iraq, and I think we're paying a very high price for it.

WALLACE: Were those lies?

Really well done. Kerry finally has to give up equivocating and finally openly state that, well, he's not going to answer the question.

KERRY: Chris, you're fighting to get me to say a word I have not used and I'm not going to use. They misled America. Whether it was intentional or not is up to Americans to decide.

So from all this I can conclude that Kerry wants his listeners to believe that the President lied, without going through the trouble of actually saying so. Maybe he has no evidence at all, in which case he doesn't want to state the President's dishonor as a fact, which statement itself would be disproven merely be the absence of his evidence. Maybe he knows the President hasn't really lied, but is playing a little fast and loose with the truth himself with all his subtle innuendo: an implied but unspoken accusation would be devoid of negative consequences in the event, say, WMD are eventually discovered. If there is a charitable reason for his casuistic diction and word play, which rivals even "that depends what the meaning of is is" then I haven't heard it.

Now about this "mislead into war" business, much has been said, and the great bulk of it probably better than I could say it, so let's focus on just a couple of particulars, laid out for us in the senator's reply to Wallace, excerpted above.

1. "He misled us in what he said he would do in terms of how he would use the authority that we voted for in Congress."
The resolution, voted for by John Kerry, is instructive and worth reviewing. It includes the following language on then-ongoing attempts at diplomatic solutions:


The Congress of the United States supports the efforts by the President to--

(a) strictly enforce through the United Nations Security Council all relevant Security Council resolutions applicable to Iraq and encourages him in those efforts; and

(b) obtain prompt and decisive action by the Security Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions.

By point B it must be understood that the President has no means to compel veto-wielding nations to approve "prompt and decisive action in the Security Council," and that, diplomatically, some kind of "or else" must follow. Section 3 of the resolution spells that out:


(a) AUTHORIZATION. The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to

(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and

(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.

So, essentially, congress authorized the President to demand prompt and decisive action on Iraq from the Security Council, or else the President was authorized to act independent of the UNSC. No legislative body would serve up such discretion to the executive without delineating some of the guidelines under which it was acceptable for him to decide that force was, in fact, required. The resolution continues:


In connection with the exercise of the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force the President shall, prior to such exercise or as soon there after as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that

(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq, and

(2) acting pursuant to this resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorists attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Distilled to its essential elements, these criteria are that (1) diplomacy alone won't persuade France to authorize decisive UNSC action; and (2) such action is "consistent with"--at least, not harmful to--ongoing actions against terrorists, including (which implies also that it is not limited to) the 9/11 terrorists. Both these criteria were met.

So congress provided authorization in advance for the President to use the military to enforce various UNSC resolutions, including a "whereas" preamble which states

Whereas on September 12, 2002, President Bush committed the United States to "work with the United Nations Security Council to meet our common challenge" posed by Iraq and to "work for the necessary resolutions," while also making clear that "the Security Council resolutions will be enforced, and the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable."

Congress further spelled out the criteria the President must use to evaluate his decision, which President Bush complied with. So what is John Kerry talking about? During his 10/9/2002 Senate speech on the resolution, he included the following remarks:

In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.

There are a number of problems with just this paragraph. We had, by that time (October 2002) already passed UNSC Resolution 1441 in August 2002. That resolution, for those who have forgotten, held Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations under previous UNSC resolutions and offered it a "final chance" to comply. This resolution was the result of some eight weeks' negotiations, with France only agreeing to support the resolution if it removed stipulations that use of force would automatically be authorized if Iraq failed to embrace its "final chance." All the discussion by October, when John Kerry made this remark on the Senate floor, surrounded the question of negotiating what the "serious consequences" should be, since Iraq manifestly had not fully complied by that point.

The second, more general but possibly more significant, problem with Kerry's remarks is more philosophical. We in the United States consider ourselves a free country, the essence of which is marked by legislation enacted under a method of constitutional representation, executed faithfully as written--in shorthand, we live under the rule of law, not the rule of men. Kerry violates this principle first by stating that he was voting for the resolution only under the condition that any eventual military action take place "with our allies at our side," which is nowhere mentioned in the actual resolution. In his remarks he attempts to attach additional requirements to the exercise of the powers given to the President in the resolution, and somewhat incredibly conditions his yea vote on the resolution on the President complying with nonexistant elements of it, introduced only verbally by a lone senator at the conclusion of the process. This is not the way laws are rendered in this country, and John Kerry fully knows that a "conditional" yea vote is not meaningful in any way, except to use as a handle for later criticism if the yea vote begins to become a liability for the senator.

A related problem, to return to the language of his remarks to Wallace, is that when he says "He misled us in what he said he would do in terms of how he would use the authority that we voted for in Congress," what does he really mean? That he helped to pass a law which he was verbally promised, off the record, would only be executed in certain particular cases? It is wrong to put laws into effect which are bad, but to console ourselves that the particular persons in power at that moment will choose only to execute them in a manner salutary to the public good. Every senator and member of congress knows this, and a lawmaker is a poor custodian of the public trust who writes such legislation as he knows can be legally executed in a way that is "bad," but trusts that it still will only be executed in a way that is "good." If John Kerry knowingly voted for a resolution authorizing the use of force under certain circumstances, but would not approve of that use of force if those circumstances were met--unless other, unwritten circumstances were also met--he is deceiving either himself or his constituents.

2. "And within the context of the president's build an international coalition, not to go it alone..."
I really am mystified that this remark is so frequently allowed to fly without rebuttal. To insist for a moment on using standard definitions of English words and phrases, we did build an international coalition. Of 18 NATO nations with armed forces (Iceland is without), ten nations (a majority!) have sent troops to Iraq: the US, Britain, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Spain, of course, has since departed.

Troops have also been provided, and continue to serve in Iraq, from Australia, Ukraine, Romania, Japan, South Korea (pending), Bulgaria, Thailand, El Salvador, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Albania, New Zealand, Estonia, Tonga(!), Singapore, Macedonia, and Moldova. This totals 31 nations which presently have troops in Iraq, and with the addition of Spain, Nicaragua, Honduras, Norway, Dominican Republic, and Phillipines, all of which have contributed but since withdrawn their forces, at total of 37 nations who have contributed troops to the effort. Most of these nations have sent only small contributions, true, but none has a military like some of the largest NATO nations. The US has contributed about 87% of the troops in Iraq.

By comparison, the 1991 Gulf War, which was the very model of a multilateral coalition, employed the services of 34 nations. The US contributed 500,000 troops of 660,000 total in theater, or 74% of the total. I don't believe the claim of "going it alone" can be justified in any objective sense, and it is a great disservice by John Kerry to dismiss the sacrifice of the many Brits and Poles and Italians and others who have been killed in Iraq, waving their sacrifice away with a derisive claim of a "fraudulent coalition."

3. "[T]he administration made comments that they were warned and knew better in the making, and that's been now documented, about the nuclear materials that came from Africa."
This naturally refers to the infamous sixteen words in the 2003 State of the Union speech: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." This was based on evidence believed credible at the time, and the British investigation (the Butler intelligence review panel) substantiates this. (A really excellent review of all the facts can be found at, and is well worth reading.)

It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible. ... By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was well-founded.

That's not to say it was necessarily true. It was, like all other such intelligence estimates, based on loose threads and best guesses with fragmentary data. The CIA, months after the State of the Union speech, reversed itself and concluded that they "no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." At worst, it would be accurate to say that the President used British intelligence as a foil to state something with more certainty than the output of his own national intelligence apparatus would permit, and that that claim has not yet been substantiated. At best, one could say the President drew the same conclusions about Iraq's WMD programs as his predecessor Bill Clinton did when he launched Operation Desert Fox in 1998.

4. "There were statements made about the connections to Al Qaida. Many speeches were made about the war on terror and linking it to Saddam Hussein. At the time, the CIA themselves said there was no connection to September 11th of Iraq."
This is so nuanced as to be almost lawyerly. Many speeches were made about Saddam sponsoring terrorists, which he certainly did, even if they were Palestinian suicide bombers and not 9/11 hijackers. No attempt was made by the administration, so far as I can find, to associate Saddam with 9/11--only with terrorism. So here Kerry conflates two separate issues (administrative claims equating Saddam with terrorism, and subsequent conclusions that Saddam was not involved in 9/11) and, I guess, implies that since the latter was rebuffed we should also credit the President for lying when he stated the former. Anyone who has a recollection of any administration official actually saying Saddam was involved in 9/11 should point it out to me.

Their conclusions about equating Saddam with international terror were correct. The man gave $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers in Palestine, a fact which no one disputes.

Next up: the Attorney General who apparently has passed the Constitution through the shredder and set fire to the resultant shreds.

Posted by JKS at August 9, 2004 04:13 AM


Posted by: Andrew Lace at November 5, 2004 04:22 AM
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