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Kerry's Ambiguous Iraq Position Alienates Voters

Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Aug. 24, 2004

Kerry's Ambiguous Position on Iraq Alienates Progressive Voters

- Interview with Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Progressive Magazine, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

As the war in Iraq continues, rebel attacks have spread to almost all corners of the nation. Battles between U.S. troops, Iraqi forces and militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr have broken out again in the holy city of Najaf, Badhdad's Sadr City and in other towns across southern Iraq. The U.S. campaign to drive Moktada al-Sadr out of Najaf comes as other insurgent groups continue to carry out attacks against American troops and members of the Iraqi military and police force.

A three-day conference in Baghdad organized to elect a commission that will plan Iraqi elections next year was disrupted on Aug. 15 by mortar attacks and protests by delegates who demanded that the U.S. end its siege of Najaf.

Amid this violence and chaos, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry surprised many when he answered a reporter's question about whether he would still have voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war, even knowing what we know now about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kerry answered by saying: "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Matthew Rothschild editor of the Progressive Magazine, who assesses Sen. Kerry's often ambiguous position on Iraq and how this may affect his support among progressive voters in the coming presidential election.

Matthew Rothschild: Yeah, wasn't that an amazing, deplorable statement that Kerry made, a real slap in the face to liberal Democrats, progressive Democrats, peace activists who were on the Howard Dean bandwagon or of Dennis Kucinich or voted for Ralph Nader last time and decided to fold their principles and put them into Kerry's pocket only to see him take out that promise and rip them up. Why in the world would he say, at this late date, that he still would give the authority to the president to go to war against Iraq? First of all, that authority, that resolution in October 2002 was based primarily on the allegation that Iraq was a continuing threat. Well, if Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction, it's not a continuing threat, therefore, he should not have given the president that authority. Furthermore, the authority itself was so widespread, so much of a blank check that to even now say it's still the right thing to do to give the president that kind of authority is to really raise questions as to what kind of president Kerry will be. Maybe he wants to be an imperial president. He said, it's up to the president as he determines, to see whether it's time to go to war or not -- at his determination. That's not what the Constitution says, the Constitution says in Article I, Section 8, that Congress should declare war. This was an abdication of Congress' constitutional obligations and just gave the president a blank check, and Kerry seems to want that blank check.

Between The Lines: Kerry and his aides made the distinction that he really didn't mean he'd prosecute the Iraq war again, knowing what he knows now, but merely that he feels the president, any president should have the authority to go to war. Do you think this statement in retrospect was a blunder, or was it a deliberate statement of his feeling about presidential power and the place of Congress?

Matthew Rothschild: Oh, I think it was a deliberate statement. I think the advisers were up all night, crafting how to maneuver right through this little channel here and keep Kerry on both sides of this issue. Another thing Kerry has said on the subject that I picked up during the debates at the Democratic primaries, was that at one of the debates Kerry even said that Bush didn't have to go to the Senate to go to war, that Clinton had gone to war against Haiti, and gone to war in Bosnia and in East Timor without a congressional authorization of force, so Bush, didn't really need to go the Senate. Well, if that's his view of what the constitutional arrangements are for going to war, we're going to be in some trouble no matter whether Bush wins or Kerry wins.

Between The Lines: At the Boston Democratic National Convention, Kerry and his advisers made it quite clear their priority was to convey to the American people that the Democrats were to be trusted, (countering) the phobia about looking weak on defense. Certainly in the post-Sept. 11 era, it makes some sense politically, but what do you make of the message being sent out by John Kerry and the Democrats vis-à-vis John Kerry's opening line in his acceptance speech: "John Kerry reporting for duty." I mean, the whole thing was so militarily oriented. Do you think that's going to get him any kind of credibility with those middle-of-the-road voters that the Democrats are so desperate to get in November?

Matthew Rothschild: It might. I didn't mind the "John Kerry reporting for duty" line, because it spoke to the fact that he could be commander-in-chief. But the stuff about his speech that bothered me was the suggestion that he was going to keep Pentagon spending as high as the Republicans are and it's soaring now toward $500 billion. The idea that he could run only on the claim that he can salute the flag as crisply as the Republicans can and he can pray Sunday to Sunday as well as Republicans can, and then we'll give you some tax breaks here and there on some social issues, well for me, I don't think that was compelling enough even for those middle of the road people. I think one of the reasons they didn't have enough of a (post-convention) bounce -- the Kerry people -- is because they didn't demonstrate to the American people how scary Bush is. And it's my contention that the Bush crowd is more scary than any crowd in the White House since Richard Nixon roamed the halls drunk late at night wondering whether he should bomb Capitol Hill.

Between The Lines: There are certainly many progressives out there that are frightened by the actions of this White House, President Bush. Does that mean that the Kerry campaign can take progressive voters for granted? Or are there a lot of people who are upset by Kerry's position on saying he would authorize, all over again, the resolution to give Bush the power to go to war in Iraq? Is that kind of thing going to cause progressive voters to stay home?

Matthew Rothschild: Kerry's got to be very careful right here with this kind of belligerent language towards Iraq and with this idea that he wants to be the imperial president, which is the way I read that statement he made about the authorization of force. He is close to scaring away some of those Nader voters who decided this time we'll go with (Kerry) because Bush is so bad. If he keeps talking like that, some of those people are either going to vote for Nader or more likely vote for the Green Party candidate, David Cobb. He needs to be careful about that. It's not only for the 2.7 percent of the people who voted for Nader last time or two-thirds of those who are progressives; he also needs to appeal to people across the country who are sick of this war, including moderate Republicans or military families. They're upset about that war. But Kerry, nonetheless, has got to be careful that he doesn't alienate the progressive voters who are going almost unanimously (for Kerry). I still get emails from people who are going to be principled and stubborn and I respect people who are principled and stubborn, and I respect people who are settling for a marriage of convenience this time. But those who are settling for a marriage of convenience on Nov. 3rd are going to file for divorce and it's going to be messy.

Read Matthew Rothschild's commentary titled, "Kerry on Iraq: Yes to the Imperial President," online at or call the magazine at (608) 257-4626.

Related links:

"Kerry on Iraq: Yes to the Imperial President," Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive,

Aug. 11, 2004


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( for the week ending Aug. 27, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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