What I wish Kerry had said

Saturday 9 October 2004

So I’ve been avidly watching the debates (three so far), and have found them fascinating. I think Kerry has been doing a good job going after the president and countering his negatives. But last night I was very frustrated with Kerry’s rebuttal to the last question.

The question to Bush was:

Please give three instances in which you came to realize you made the wrong decision and what you did to correct it.

Bush responded (paraphrased):

I make thousands of decisions, history will decide which were right and which were wrong, I’ll take responsibility for all of them. Going into Iraq was the right decision.

And Kerry jumped onto the Iraq question and gave us a 90-second rerun about how Iraq was a mistake. Here’s what I wish he had said:

You’ll notice the president didn’t answer the question. In fact, ladies and gentlemen, think back. When have you ever heard this president say, “I’m sorry?” When have you ever heard him admit that one of his decisions was wrong? Today he says he’d do exactly the same thing in Iraq even knowing everything we know now. He’s said he would still stand on the aircraft carrier and declare “Mission Accomplished” even though the bulk of American casualties were yet to come.

This president makes a lot of hard decisions, like any president. But unlike other presidents, he won’t look at their outcome. He’s incapable of seeing reality. No matter how things have turned out, the message is always the same: “It’s working, give it time, I’d do the same again, stay the course.” And when the results are so bad they can’t be ignored, other people are to blame. He says the “Mission Accomplished” banner was put up by the Navy. He says we went into Iraq because Congress gave him the authority.

The president says he is determined. I call it stubborn. He says he is steadfast. I call it closed-minded. He says everything is going well. Do you think it is going well? I think the president has turned his back on reality. Going into Iraq when we did and how we did was a mistake, but the president can’t see it.

Being president means making lots of hard decisions, but it also means being strong enough to admit when you’ve made a mistake, and correcting it. This president can’t or won’t do that.

Comments

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Bob 1:06 PM on 9 Oct 2004

Agreed, Kerry missed an opportunity to make a better point with this one. Wonkette's synposis of Bush's response to the question was pretty funny:

Q: Name three times you've made a mistake.
A: I WAS RIGHT TO GO TO WAR. AND THAT'S A TRICK QUESTION. F*CK YOU.

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Sylvain Galineau 1:41 PM on 9 Oct 2004

I would argue they both miss this opportunity; but I'm afraid it's no accident.

Admitting past mistakes is one thing. How to correct them is most definitely what the election should be about. Unfortunately, both candidates are studiously avoiding that minefield. And this is the space where Kerry is at least as as evasive as Bush but, I will gladly admit, far better at concealing it.

We know Bush "stays the course", whatever that means. "I have a plan and it will work because it's different" is all Kerry will actually say, followed by his well-rehearsed warm and fuzzy platitudes about the ubiquitous allies and "winning the peace". Except most of it is either not credible, or does not address some of his own cogent criticism. A few simple questions about Kerry's main proposals regard Iraq :

- What exactly is it that these allies - who they are, we're never told exactly - can do, or provide, that is missing and will fix the current situation on the ground in Iraq ? We do not know and can only guess.

- Given what they can do, why would they do it ? What sane European leader would, today, suggest committing troops to an operation both his own public opinion and the US President believe to be wrong, mistaken, mishandled, wasteful etc, when not simply "illegal" and "immoral" ? Who among them wants to be the next Jose Maria Aznar ? Are we supposed to believe that Russia, say, or Germany, will be so pained by America taking "90% of the casualties" that they will feel compelled to fill some body bags of their own ? And if they did (yeah right) and our share of casualties did decrease, does it automatically follow that the actual number of US combat deaths would be lower ? Last time I checked, 90% of 100 equals 50% of 180.

These questions are never addressed; or rather, they are carefully avoided. A few weeks before election day, we still do not know who these allies are, nor do we know what it is we are expecting from them, and why they would do it.

- Pushing aside the possibility of new foreign boots on the ground, what is Kerry going to give those unnamed allies to extract significant concessions from them over Iraq ? I mean, we're not relying on their natural generosity, are we ? We don't know; he never specifies it. And how are these contributions going to make a difference with respect to the security situation ? Say France forgives the entire $8bn debt accrued by the former regime. Then what ? How does that slow down or stop the insurrection ? Do we, maybe, believe foreign contractors to be better at rebuilding Iraq under fire than Bechtel or the others already there ? If so, why ? No word. We can only speculate and assume away.

- Bush didn't have a plan to win the peace. Fair enough. But what is Kerry's ? He told us last night about the "wisdom" of a retired general in arguing for hundreds of thousands of troops for a successful occupation. All right, then : does it mean he is going to engage that many in the field ? And does he say where he is going to find them ? The answers are No and No. So we are left scratching our heads because 1) we needed hundreds of thousands of troops to win the peace but 2) 40,000 more soldiers and double the number of special forces will have to do. Which is it ? How does the proposed answer fit the problem as it was stated ?

There is no debate on Iraq. None. On one side is an incumbent who won't acknowledge risks, costs, consequences or criticism, as incumbents always do; on the other a challenger who has virtually nothing to offer beyond a 20/20 hindsight blame-storm, as challengers always do, and, at best, a slew of vague and largely self-contradictory proposals that do not stand 30-seconds worth of drunken scrutiny.

In other words, and this is where he is brilliant, all Kerry really does is leverage his opponent's world-class pig-headedness by virtually admitting Bush's foreign policy mistakes and glaring inadequacies on his behalf. And because he is so good and articulate at it, mixing comforting mea-culpas and a pretense of knowledgeable humility with apparent purpose, he does inspire a comparatively warm and reassuring feeling that he is, and would be, equally able to face his own contradictions and errors. When his own campaign proposals provide no evidence that this is the case; and show him claiming a record of steadfast consistency against any and all evidence to the contrary.

So, what is it going to be ? "Stay the President's course" or "sign a blank check to the Senator with a plan" ?

Sometimes I'm just relieved I can't vote.

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Kudla 9:34 AM on 10 Oct 2004

I vote for Ned

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Jeff Atwood 6:35 PM on 10 Oct 2004

Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, as always, summed it up best.

(spoken in Dubya Drawl, emphasis on last words in sentence.)

"Dick and I will get a report. We will read it. If there's anything in it that concerns you, we will let you know. But I doubt it."

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andrew 10:01 PM on 10 Oct 2004

I wish that Kerry had the guts to admit three mistakes that he made. Ohhh, he is going to "rebut" Bush's claim and then "boldly" point out things that Kerry thinks that Bush did wrong? He thinks everything that Bush did is wrong!

What I found to be particularly insulting was when Kerry looked around the room and proclaimed that only he, Bush and the moderator made more than $200K/year. Is he psychic? Nah, I guess being a lothario that marries only for money, he could probably smell that there was no money there. Good thing too, he might have dropped TuhRayZuh if he could find somebody worth more that $3.2B.

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Ned Batchelder 6:38 AM on 11 Oct 2004

Sylvain: I think Kerry had more details than you are admitting. And if he is president, I think he will be able to say, "I don't think we should have started this war the way Bush did, but now that we are here, we need to finish it.", and will be able to ask other countries for help. The way Bush has been acting towards some countries, I think they might be glad to help Kerry. And, the way that you would vote, I'm relieved that you can't vote, too! :-)

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Ned Batchelder 6:41 AM on 11 Oct 2004

Andrew: you are not doing yourself or your side a service by providing only ad hominem attacks on Kerry. Kerry actually did refer to his own mistakes in his rebuttal to the question. And why are you making fun of Teresa's name? It seems like thinly-veiled xenophobia, which is beneath you.

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Sylvain Galineau 9:24 AM on 11 Oct 2004

- Ned, if I were you, I wouldn't make assumptions about what people would vote based on one or two opinions of a particular candidate, however critical they might seem. You might be surprised....

- Unfortunately, Kerry doesn't have more details than this; I checked his web site, the DNC's, and there is very little there beyond what the candidate states in his speeches and debates. The allies are indeed often defined as NATO, hence Europe, but that's about it.

- I don't think admitting past mistakes is so relevant at this late stage that it would change either your vote or your opinion of someone's abilities. This is where we are; one of those guys will have to sort it out for four years. How they will deal with it ought to matter at least as much as their apparent understanding of the recent past. Or lack thereof.

- After-the fact criticism is easy; walking around a stage claimg that "if I had been President I would have done better" is even easier. But in order to prove it thoroughly and convincingly, much more detail and substance is required than "I have a plan to win the peace". I can understand Bush's reluctance to get in that argument; I can't quite justify nor understand Kerry's. As the challenger, the burden is on him to force that crucial debate and he is, at best, tip-toeing around it.

- I'm not questioning his ability to ask other countries for help, but its actual relevance, and the expectations implied both by his public statements and your own comment. I am asking why they would give him help, given the huge costs and risks involved, both financial and political. With EU public opinion firmly against it, with Tony Blair on the ropes and Aznar out, why would France, for instance, step up to that plate ? What could Kerry offer them that would make it worth it ? And what can they provide that would be worth what we'd have to give them, and how would it make such a difference on the ground ? Beats me.

- If the recent past is any indication, an EU-wide force could not even handle Bosnia under a UN mandate; Clinton had to dispatch ~20,000 troops to cover them and fix the mess there. They are barely holding Kosovo together today. But somehow, they'd be ready, willing and able to provide more and do better in Iraq just because they couldn't stand Bush and Kerry is asking them ? Is that a rational expectation ?

- Once things are more stable, I do expect them to participate to the peacekeeping phase and help with the rebuilding effort. But believing we only need Kerry to be President for them to flip some kind of switch and get us to that stage is, imho, foolish.

- I do agree that Kerry would be far better when it comes to telling allies and foreign public opinion why they should be helping. But I don't think it's reasonable to assume that would be enough to translate into anything concrete or relevant in the short term, if ever.

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Ned Batchelder 10:12 AM on 11 Oct 2004

Sylvain: you are right about being surprised by how people vote. It is all too easy to fall into the black-and-white political argument these days.

"I don't think admitting past mistakes is so relevant at this late stage": this is my main point: I thought the original question ("name three mistakes") was much more interesting than the one it morphed into ("was Iraq a mistake").

The thing that is hardest for me to accept about Bush is that he will not reflect. He seems uninterested in information that conflicts with his own preconceptions. He surrounds himself with people who share those preconceptions, then believes that they are giving him objective information. Dissenters are ousted or isolated, and the parade continues.

That's what I wish Kerry had underscored in his answer to this question. Bush doesn't want to examine anything critically. Perhaps if he had, he would have seen the flimsiness of the WMD intelligence.

Forget Iraq. The problem with Bush is that everything he does is driven by his preconceptions, from global warming to educational policies to economics to foreign policy. He's not curious about the world, he's not a thinker, and he's definitely not introspective.

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Sylvain Galineau 11:19 AM on 11 Oct 2004

Fair enough. I think I see where you're coming from.

Well, to the extent it is the most visible of his policy decisions, it does tend to get all the attention. And I do think it should.

All politicians - and voters - have preconceptions. That they are does not make them inherently invalid, whether they are shared by a majority or not. As for surrounding himself with people who share his beliefs, I don't think that's in any way specific to him or his Administration. The crushing of dissent is, however, both real and disturbing.

Regarding the flimsiness of WMD intelligence, that was certainly not obvious at the time; neither the declassified CIA reports and National Intelligence Estimate, nor the reports from Hans Blix foretold the surprising outcome on the ground. I think the Senate Intelligence Committee report put it best : "Although the Intelligence Community lacked unambiguous reporting of either active WMD programs or a vigorous D&D (Denial and Deception) effort to hide WMD programs, the assumptions that Iraq was engaged in both were tied together in a self-reinforcing premise that explained away the lack of strong evidence of either." I do not think the Administration can be directly blamed for that expensive catch-22; although 9/11, combined with its intellectual and political baggage, made it quite unlikely it would ever seriously question the worst-case scenario bias of the CIA, itself reinforced by that same attack and a decade of intel failures.

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Martijn 11:50 AM on 11 Oct 2004

I have to agree with Ned here. President Bush has an opinion and he'll stick with it no matter whether it turned out to be wrong or right. It's the black and white world:
-either you're with us or against us.
-you're anti abortion or you're in favour of it.
etc.
I guess that makes it easier for a lot of people/voters to identify with Bush.

Kerry on the other hand sees that your opinion of something can change when the circumstances change. This is seen as flip flop behaviour however. Shame.

I think Kerry would do a better job internationally. I think he's right when he says that the US has become less popular with friend and foe.

It would definitely be good if someone would take a good look at the cause of the problems instead of fighting the effects in the 'War against terror'.
I am not justifying any terrorist activity but it's time for some introspection.

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Sylvain Galineau 12:33 PM on 11 Oct 2004

Dealing with the cause is a long-term effort. The consequences must still be fought and dealt with in the short term.

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Pete Lyons 8:35 AM on 12 Oct 2004

What are the roots of terrorism? I say it’s the major skism between the haves and have nots of the Gulf region. I say it’s the lack of political voice for most of that region. I say it’s a caused by the jelousy and contempt of a down trodended people unable to keep up with rest world.

Given that viewpoint I like President Bush’s conduct. What many seem to think is stuborness I see as vision and determination. I disagree with President Bush on a lot of issues but I think bringing the war to Sadam was the correct thing to do. Sadam certainly wasn’t pacified by Gulf War 1 and the sanctions weren’t really hurting him or his regime. While the WMDs may have been destroyed the infrastructure, know-how and will to build and use them were not. Sadam was patient, support for sanctions was wavering across the board, once they were lifted I believe he would have rissen more powerful and emboldened than before.

What does this have to do with Terrorism? A lot. His government typifies the exact sort of conditions that create a terrorist. Sadam is if anything a brilliant manipulator and he would have used the hatred of the US to deflect the Islamists dislike of him and his regime. I don’t know if he would actually have supplied someone with WMDs but I do believe we couldn’t fix the bigger problems while a toxic regime like his festered in an already diseased environment.

One last point on the ‘Mission Accomplished’ statement. We all do things in stages. It’s how we break up large tasks. We do the same in software development; we have milestones. The initial mission for the armed forces was to remove Sadam from power. That mission was accomplished at that point and he congratulated his troops for doing it.

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Steven Wilcox 2:26 PM on 12 Oct 2004

I think one thing that Bush has pointed out is that you can't say "oops, we goofed" and hope to then win the war. Having the President of the United States say the war was a mistake would not only hurt our troops and allies and the majority of Iraqi's (who want a knew free Iraq), but it would also provide a foot hold for the terrorists who desire to disrupt the effort and turn public opinion. I don't think this is as simple as saying Bush is stubborn or not a "thinker". I think this is a matter of necessity. It's mighty hard to win a game you think shouldn't be played. It's even harder to win a war that you think shouldn't have been fought. So even if Bush thinks he would have done something different, now is not the time to be admitting that as it could have far reaching consequences.

What troubles me about Kerry is that he has consistently been on the wrong side of foreign policy. He came back from Vietnam and provided daming testimony that was used against our troups still in the field, he was not a Reagan supporter, he has consistently opposed weapons and military intelligence programs, he opposed the first Gulf War (despite H.W. having the bigger coalition and greater UN Support that he wanted this time). He says he personally feels life begins at conception but can't force his religious views on anyone else (proving that he doesn't really believe that because if he did, he would do something about stopping what would then be murder based on his definition). For whatever stubborness issues Bush has, Kerry more than makes up for that by seeming to be someone with no real backbone.

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mikey 5:09 PM on 12 Oct 2004

seems to me that every four years we get interested in this battle between the white hats and black hats that for some people substitutes as political awareness. i suggest that while the presidential vote is important, this type of hot debate and passion would certainly serve the greater good spread out over the calendar year, manifested by involvement in local, state and national issues. quick, name your state rep.

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Steven Wilcox 7:33 AM on 13 Oct 2004

Agreed mikey, many folks don't have any idea. Personally, I've found that since less interest is taken in them, they are quite responsive to the few who are articulate enough to discuss their issues and concerns.

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Liz Beckhardt 6:31 PM on 18 Oct 2004

Is anyone else as nervous as I am that Bush is conducting his presidency based on *faith in the almighty*??? He has as much as said that he is acting on God's wishes and is a vehicle of God. Don't know about you, but I thought the separation of Church and State happened a LONG time ago. Here is a quote from a VERY interesting article from today's NY Times Magazine section - yes Andrew, I know you and yours abhor the NY Times, but it is still an interesting expose into the mind of "W". Here is but one quote:

''This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,'' Bartlett went on to say. ''He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'' Bartlett paused, then said, ''But you can't run the world on faith.''

And here is a link to the entire article - you may have to sign up to read the whole thing (don't worry, it's free)....but I think it is well worth it. And by the way, the same magazine published a less than flattering article about Kerry last weekend....lest you think it is entirely a left-wing liberal piece of junk.

And by the way - isn't God and faith and religion exactly the excuse the Islamic extremists use to justify their actions? So, using that argument, are we no better than they are?

Liz Beckhardt

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Liz Beckhardt 6:32 PM on 18 Oct 2004

Oops here is the link - still not getting enough sleep with baby around!

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html?oref=login

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