The Magazine

Edwards vs. Kerry

From the July 19, 2004 issue: Look who doesn't buy the presidential candidate's critique of the Iraq war.

Jul 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 42 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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"THE UNITED STATES of America should never go to war because it wants to," said John Kerry last weekend in a speech in Cloquet, Minn., accusing the Bush administration of bellicosity. "We should only go to war because we have to."

Did we go to war in Iraq just because we wanted to, or because Iraq posed a threat? Kerry's new running mate John Edwards addressed that question from the Senate floor on October 10, 2002, explaining his decision to vote to authorize war in Iraq.

"I'm here to speak in support of the resolution before us, which I cosponsored. I believe we must vote for this resolution not because we want war, but because the national security of our country requires action."

We do this dance every four years. Politicians from the same party trash each other in a primary and then, when they later join hands, reporters dig up all of the bad things they said about each other. (Remember "voodoo economics"?) It can be a tiresome routine. But this year's Kerry-Edwards paper trail is an exception. Why? Because Edwards, it turns out, has almost eerily anticipated and answered Kerry's chief criticisms of the Bush administration's Iraq policy:

The Bush administration "misled America." Kerry is fond these days of claiming that the Bush administration "misled" the country to go to war in Iraq. Here he is during a June 25 appearance on Nightline with Ted Koppel. The administration "deeply misled the American people. I think the evidence is quite clear."

For Edwards, however, the evidence wasn't quite so clear. "So did I get misled? No. I didn't get misled," he said on Hardball with Chris Matthews on October 13, 2003, almost a year to the day after he voted to authorize the Iraq war and some six months after major combat ended. When Matthews followed up, asking Edwards if he got an "honest reading on the intelligence," the junior senator from North Carolina seemed to place much of the blame on the intelligence community.

EDWARDS: "And as you know, I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. So it wasn't just the Bush administration. I sat in meeting after meeting after meeting where we were told about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. There is clearly a disconnect between what we were told and what, in fact, we found there."

What's more, on February 24, 2002, Edwards was asked by CNN's John King about President Bush's labeling of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil." His response: "You know, the most imminent, clear and present threat to our country is not the same from those three countries. I think Iraq is the most serious and imminent threat to our country. . . . And they do, in my judgment, present different threats. And I think Iraq and Saddam Hussein present the most serious and most imminent threat."

The Iraq war and the war on terror. "This administration took its eye off of al Qaeda," Kerry told reporters in Detroit on June 17, "took its eye off of the real war on terror, which was in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, and transferred it for reasons of its own to Iraq." Asked what those reasons were, Kerry was coy: "You have to ask the administration."

He might have directed those same reporters to Edwards, who said this on October 10, 2002. "Others argue that if even our allies support us, we should not support this resolution because confronting Iraq now would undermine the long-term fight against terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Yet, I believe that this is not an either-or choice. Our national security requires us to do both, and we can."

Going it alone. In a December 3, 2003, speech Kerry accused Bush of going to war "almost alone." Worse, he continued, "the United Nations is divided, years of work is torn apart, and we are fighting an increasingly deadly guerrilla war in Iraq almost single-handedly. We have lost the goodwill of the world, and overextended our troops, and endangered rather than enhanced our own security. I believed a year ago and I believe now that we had to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and that we, the United States, needed to lead in that effort. But this administration did it in the worst possible way: without the United Nations, without our allies, without a legitimate plan to win the peace."

Edwards by contrast, in his Hardball appearance two months before Kerry's speech, understood that "we couldn't let those who could veto in the Security Council hold us hostage."

MATTHEWS: Were we right to go to this war alone, basically without the Europeans behind us? Was that something we had to do?

EDWARDS: I think that we were right to go. I think we were right to go to the United Nations. I think we couldn't let those who could veto in the Security Council hold us hostage. And I think Saddam Hussein being gone is good. Good for the American people, good for the security of that region of the world, and good for the Iraqi people.