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....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.
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.
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.