Glenn Kessler took a lot of flak from readers last week for his decision not to assign any Pinocchios to Barack Obama for his “I didn’t set the red line” claim. The Washington Post fact-checker returns with a vengeance to look at Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that he had opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq — which he voted to authorize, a vote he later defended during his 2004 presidential run:
You know, Senator Chuck Hagel, when he was senator, Senator Chuck Hagel, now secretary of defense, and when I was a senator, we opposed the president’s decision to go into Iraq, but we know full well how that evidence was used to persuade all of us that authority ought to be given.”
— Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in an interview with MSNBC, Sept. 5, 2013
Kessler runs down the voting records of both men, and also the record of public statements by Kerry. At one time, Kerry claimed that he voted to authorize the use of force but didn’t agree with the decision to invade. Kessler pulls this gem out of the Wayback Machine from the time of the US presentation to the UN in early 2003:
By the time of the March invasion, after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s United Nations presentation on Iraq’s alleged weapons, Kerry backed the attack, according to articles that appeared in the Boston Globe (and which were written by one of his current aides at the State Department).
“It appears that with the deadline for exile come and gone, Saddam Hussein has chosen to make military force the ultimate weapons inspections enforcement mechanism,” Kerry said. “If so, the only exit strategy is victory. This is our common mission and the world’s cause. We’re in this together. We want to complete the mission while safeguarding our troops, avoiding innocent civilian casualties, disarming Saddam Hussein, and engaging the community of nations to rebuild Iraq,” he said.
Kessler notes that politicians like to recall the best possible spin on their words, but Kerry is just flat-out lying again about his record:
Many politicians have a tendency to look back at their past statements with rose-colored glasses. But given that Kerry has now twice in recent months made the claim that he opposed the war in Iraq, this is clearly not a case of a momentary slip-up.
For Kerry, the uncomfortable fact remains that he voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq, he believed the intelligence that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and he said there was little choice but to launch an invasion to disarm him. Kerry may have been highly critical of Bush’s diplomatic efforts in advance of the invasion, but that is not the same thing as opposing the war when it started.
It’s time for the secretary to stop making this claim. In trying to make a distinction between his vote to authorize the war and his later dismay at how it turned out, Kerry earns Four Pinocchios.
Maybe we can average them out to 2 apiece, eh? Meanwhile, Kessler’s colleague Max Fisher expresses his dismay at how stunningly incompetent Kerry has been at selling the military strikes on Syria:
Kerry’s missteps are bad politics for the Obama administration, making it tougher to sell their Syria strikes plan to an already skeptical Congress and American public. But they also have real implications for Syria itself and for the U.S. effort to organize international action to end the war. …
But Kerry’s rhetorical missteps matter for more than just the United States. He responded to a reporter’s question about how Assad could ward off U.S. strikes by floating scenario. “Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay,” he said. The problem with this is that Kerry doesn’t get to make offhand analytical comments; he’s the U.S. secretary of state, and whether or not he meant this as an offer to Assad, that’s how it was taken.
Russian and Syrian officials quickly jumped on Kerry’s comments, endorsing the hypothetical as an official offer and suggesting Syria might give up its chemical weapons. There’s a strong case to be made that this would be a great outcome, but it could also simply be a stalling tactic that will make it very tough for the United States to act and could well end with Syria surrendering exactly zero chemical weapons. The Obama administration is now obligated to follow up on Russia’s proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, giving Moscow a bit more control over the international leadership on Syria and leaving the U.S. with a bit less.
The best analysis in the Washington Post today is that the man appointed by Barack Obama to run American foreign policy is both dishonest and incompetent. That doesn’t exactly fit with the argument today from Obama apologists that the Russia plan was a brilliant gambit designed by Barack Obama. We’ll have more on that later, but for now let’s just say that Kerry was against the Russian-inspectors plan before he was for it.