Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bob Kerrey: Wrong About the War But Right About the Stakes

by Kyle Michaelis
In his singular style, Bob Kerrey - the former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator who is rumored to be considering a 2008 bid for the Senate seat once held by his colleague Jim Exon...if his friend Chuck Hagel does not seek re-election - penned a controversial opinion column about the Iraq War in yesterday's Wall Street Jounal that has outraged and infuriated many of those who would otherwise be his most ardent supporters (I, II, III).

I can understand why a number of Democrats and progressives would react negatively to Kerrey's article. By repeating the case for originally invading Iraq and admitting that he still believes it was the right thing to do, Kerrey does seem to have blinded himself to the reality of this four year debacle that has threatened our economic security and demoralized our military while leaving the people of Iraq in a state of perpetual chaos.

However, as wrong as Kerrey may be about the war, this does not imply that he's wrong about the stakes. Nor does it mean that he's wrong about the course we must follow from this point forward. While there's a lot to be said for a clear understanding of the past being necessary to chart the best course for our future, I am probably more bothered by the reactionary fervor against Kerrey's ideas than I am about the ideas themselves.

It's easy to hold against Kerrey his stubborn, almost Bush-like refusal to reasses the threat actually posed by Iraq after 9/11. It's easier still to hold it against Kerrey when bloggers at the arch-conservative National Review declare "Bob Kerrey Just Became My Favorite Democrat" or when notorious right-wing blow-hard Rush Limbaugh decides "Bob Kerrey is right." But, in a democratic debate of free-thinking individuals, you're going to see people with very different agendas and very different worldviews sometimes finding themselves on the same page.

If the issue of Iraq were truly a partisan one, then perhaps we would be in a position to judge Kerrey by the company he currently keeps. But the ongoing debate of the Iraq War that has only really begun since the Democratic Party took control of Congress in January cannot and should not be conceived along these oftentimes arbitrary and wholly political lines we call party labels. As a proud Democrat, I can see why Democrats would want such lines drawn to insulate themselves from the failures of the Iraq War and to position themselves for the 2008 elections, but the perils of playing games while this disaster unfolds are too great to allow message control and party fealty to trump the free debate in which we place our faith and trust.

Although I disagree with a great deal of what Kerrey wrote, he is right to call on Democrats and liberals to re-examine the best course of action from this point forward. Like it or not, opinion polls and an 18 month presidential campaign cannot dictate how we proceed if we have any true concern for the international community, our own security, or the continued suffering of the Iraqi people. Kerrey may infuriate with his singularly contrarian style, but there is a lot of truth in the below statements that we'd be fools to dismiss for such callous and so obviously political reasons:
The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it....

The key question for Congress is whether or not Iraq has become the primary battleground against the same radical Islamists who declared war on the U.S. in the 1990s and who have carried out a series of terrorist operations including 9/11. The answer is emphatically "yes"....

Those who argue that radical Islamic terrorism has arrived in Iraq because of the U.S.-led invasion are right. But they are right because radical Islam opposes democracy in Iraq.....

Finally, Jim Webb said something during his campaign for the Senate that should be emblazoned on the desks of all 535 members of Congress: You do not have to occupy a country in order to fight the terrorists who are inside it. Upon that truth I believe it is possible to build what doesn't exist today in Washington: a bipartisan strategy to deal with the long-term threat of terrorism.
For everything Kerrey may be wrong about in Iraq, there's enough truth in the preceding passages that they deserve more careful consideration than what I've seen from those who've reacted so negatively to this opinion piece. Of course, the above message may have been better received if Kerrey had come on bended knee apologizing for his previous errors of judgment in Iraq, but that's not Bob Kerrey's style.

Never has been. Never will be. And, you know what, that's a lot of the reason why Nebraskans love him so damn much.

I've been an outspoken opponent to the war in Iraq since 2002, but I'm not looking for an ego-stroking as we decide what course to set for eventual U.S. withdrawal and for the faint but still living hopes for establishing an Iraqi democracy. One thing is for certain - Iraq is a mess that we can not wash our hands of or turn a blind eye to if we are a sane people with any conscience whatsoever as a nation.

Other than that, I don't claim to have any answers, and I question those who do. This is a complex situation with no simple or short-term resolution. Whether a U.S. military presence can bring any sort of peace to Iraq is doubtful, but that doesn't preclude our playing an essential role in making that peace possible and in preventing the outright genocide that could otherwise result.

To these challenges, regardless of where I personally disagree with the man, I welcome Bob Kerrey's most recent contribution to this all-important debate. And - yes - I would most certainly welcome Kerrey's return to the Nebraska political scene that has been far less entertaining, less enlightening, and less challenging in his absence.

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Blogger Ryan Anderson said...


Thank you for this article. I have to admit my own tendency to get swept up in a white cap/black cap moralizing that is probably inappropriate to politics in general, but most certainly hinders our ability to navigate such a disastrous lose/lose situation as the war in Iraq. "What happens after we leave?" is a pretty devastating trump card for the McCains and the Bushes out there, and we aren't doing ourselves any favors to pretend that public opinion somehow insulates us (or the Iraqi people) from the consequences of any decision, including withdrawal or partition or any of the rest of it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wednesday's Omaha World-Herald has an article about Kerrey's Wall Street Journal op-ed (
Someone asked me: What is your take on Senator Kerrey and his war position? My response was: It flies in the face of facts. Our presence in Iraq is the perfect recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. Their numbers continue to grow, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with an increase in world terrorism. You simply cannot fight a guerilla war using conventional military. Kerrey is worried about Al Qaeda gaining a foothold in Iraq, but they already have one in parts of Pakistan. His analogy of successful imposition of democracy in Japan and Germany is faulty as these 2 countries were homogenous. Iraq is composed of 3 groups with little or no commonality. Kerrey's been wrong every step of the way. No reason to think he's right now.

I try not to let my philosophy cloud my take on reality and actual facts. I'm willing to change my position 180 degrees if facts come out that contradict my previous assumptions and have no problem admitting I was wrong. Too many people on the national stage have large egos that prevent them from doing the same. Kerrey seems to have a philosophy on Iraq that he is unwilling to change, damn the facts. Leaving Iraq may be perceived as a victory by Al Qaeda, but it would only be a temporary one. We could then put our efforts into fighting real terrorists instead of killing Iraqi civilians, intentionally or not, in a civil war.

I'm betting that we will not leave Iraq or reduce numbers until 2009. No matter who is president, we'll maintain a significant force there.

Blogger Jake said...

Kerry's editorial was a joke. He seems to address or specifically target liberals for somehow not taking the threat or the consequences of Iraq Seriously. I have yet to see or read any statement put out by any politician that implies anyone does not understand the stakes in this. Simply put, Bob Kerry could not be more wrong. I like Bob Kerry, I respect Bob Kerry, but his words yesterday were garbage.
It was certainly not the policy ideas or initiatives of liberals that got American into this mess. Furthermore, he is not saying anything new. He just keeps on going with the Republican Talking points. We have to fight them there so we don't fight them here. He offers no new ideas. He does not discuss the importance of bringing other regional players to the tables to discuss other potential solutions. Instead, he chastises liberals who bear little to no responsibility to this awful war.
Kerry does not consider the massive amount of people who are against this war. Its not just special interest groups. It is the MAJORITY of Americans now. Some polls indicate close to seventy percent. Its infuriating to think that we don't know the stakes. We don't understand the consequences.
Kerry was wrong about this war before it began, he was wrong about it before "Mission Accomplshed" and he is wrong about it now.
I can respect his independence. I can respect his military background. However, I refuse to respect his regurgitation of Republican Talking points. His lines are the same lines the Republicans use time and time again. He offered no new ideas or suggestions in his editorial he simply chastised Democrats and progressives who look at alternatives. I need better, The Democratic party needs, better, and most importantly, Nebraska needs better. He lost my support on this one.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Kerrey's piece last night and I just re-read the piece. I respect Bob Kerrey but these are warmed over GOP talking points. No wonder the WSJ editorial page is free while you have to pay for the rest of their content. The WSJ is an excellent newspaper besides it's editorial page.

But I digress, so-called serious thinkers of the Democratic party need to offer solutions on Iraq rather than chide nameless Democrats for not offering solutions.

However I think the Democratic party has to make a good faith effort to solve the problem in Iraq rather than just look to score partisan points and make Bush look bad. If we don't have a plan in 2008 we're sunk.

That said I think the presidential candidate most likely to offer a workable plan is Bill Richardson. He's the former UN ambassador so he has first hand experience in foreign policy. None of the "rock stars" have a foreign policy background. Richardson does. If we were to caucus today I'd probably support Richardson.

Blogger LeftintheMidwest said...

You highlighted a section of the piece you thought was important..

"The key question for Congress is whether or not Iraq has become the primary battleground against the same radical Islamists who declared war on the U.S. in the 1990s and who have carried out a series of terrorist operations including 9/11. The answer is emphatically "yes"...."

I think when approaching Iraq from that standpoint it is imperative that one looks at the reasons the radical Islamists declared war on the U.S. One of the key grievances they lay out it the presence of our forces in the Holy Land, i.e. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraqi No-Fly Zones, installing the shah, etc. As long as we are there they are going to fight us. I think it is also important to remember there was no al-queda in Iraq until will came marching in. And always be thinking of blowback.

As for solutions to the situation I find myself liking Gov. Bill Richardson's plan. It involves bringing together Iraq's three ethnic groups for negotiating a possible 3 part division within Iraq, and guarenteeing oil revenue sharing and a equal cabinet. He also advocates establishing an all Muslim peacekeeping force, which I think is key as I stated earlier. He also advocates no residual U.S. forces and bringing all the Arab nations together to help in the reconstructions.

I have an idea of my own that I think would be a great addition to the Richardson Plan. It is pull all U.S. forces out of the cities and into the surrounding countryside. From what I have read and talked about with service members this seemed to be suggested by everyday Iraqi's accross the board. In Jeremy Scahill's book "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," he details the events leading up to the massacre of 4 Blackwater contractors in Fallujah and the subsequent U.S. assault on the city. In the weeks leading up to the Blackwater travesty the residents of Fallujah had become increasingly at odds with U.S. forces increasing their presence in the city. The residents at that time, were not necessary rallying against the overall occupation, but acknowledged it. They simply wanted the Americans to be stationed outside of the city rather than comadeering public buildings and schools. I feel this tactic is not discussed enough as it could be implemented quickly and still enable U.S. forces to intervene if massive secretarian bloodletting was to follow the pullout.


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