Kerry avoids war — for now
BY SETH GITELL
TUESDAY, MARCH 12, 2002 — In the law, they call it laying the foundation. That’s what Senator John Kerry and his supporters — wife Teresa Heinz, New York senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and others — did yesterday at a $200,000 fundraiser for Massachusetts’s junior senator.
Unlike during his visit to New Hampshire earlier this month, when he criticized his Republican counterparts, Kerry chose not to weigh in on the burgeoning debate over President George W. Bush’s War on Terror. But that didn’t stop Clinton and Heinz from preparing the public for a time when Kerry, who earned a Silver Star for his Naval service in Vietnam, does begin raising questions about the direction of the war. "John’s leadership is critical to where we plan to go in this world," said Clinton. "We need people of the stature and the experience of John Kerry ... asking the hard questions. We are having the debate Congress is required to have — where to go, what to do."
Later, Heinz added to the work begun by Clinton. Kerry "saw in Vietnam the price ordinary people pay when tough questions go unasked and tough truths unconfronted." She concluded: "To tell the truth no matter the cost. That is a leader, and that is my husband."
When Kerry agreed to meet reporters, he declined to apply Clinton and Heinz’s remarks to the War on Terror. "There has been no criticism of the war," Kerry said, carefully circumscribing his definition of the war. "Everybody has to recognize that this thing called ‘war’ is very different from the war I fought in Vietnam," he added, mentioning the current campaign’s objectives of "law enforcement" and "intelligence gathering," but carefully avoiding the contentious issues of the day.
Neither Kerry nor any of the five female senators who appeared on his behalf — nor any of the reporters present, for that matter — mentioned Iraq, despite the fact that the Bush administration’s vision of the war on terror seems to differ radically from the law-enforcement-oriented project discussed by Kerry. Yesterday’s USA Today led with a story emphasizing Bush’s commitment to go after Iraq: "U.S. to Turn Focus to Iraq — War on Terror: Saddam’s Actions ‘Not Acceptable.’" Just hours before Kerry spoke, Bush was laying a foundation of his own — hinting at action against Iraq during a speech on the White House lawn. "Every nation in our coalition must take seriously the growing threat of terror on a catastrophic scale — terror armed with biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons," the president said. "Some states that sponsor terror are seeking or already possess weapons of mass destruction.... In preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, there is no margin for error, and no chance to learn from mistakes. Our coalition must act deliberately, but inaction is not an option. Men with no respect for life must never be allowed to control the ultimate instruments of death."
I wouldn’t take Kerry’s silence on the Iraq issue to signify agreement with Bush. Rather, it indicates that Kerry, who hopes to run for president in 2004, is keeping his options open. As the real prospect of war with Saddam Hussein intensifies, we will hear more from Kerry. And if that anti-Saddam campaign goes badly, the Massachusetts senator is ideally suited to pick up the pieces. But if it goes smoothly, and the despotic Iraqi leader is removed at minimal cost, Kerry’s circumspect silence will have served him well.
Issue Date: March 12, 2002
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