John Kerry’s Cakewalk

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For the life of me, I don’t know why they’re doing this. But in both the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday and on Chris Hayes’ show yesterday, John Kerry made a remarkable claim.

KERRY:  — I disagree.  And, first of all, let — let — let me make this clear.  The president — and this is very important, because I think a lot of Americans, all of your listeners, a lot of people in the country are sitting there and saying oh, my gosh, this is going to be Iraq, this is going to be Afghanistan.  Here we go again.

I know this.  I — I’ve heard it.

And the answer is no, profoundly no.  You know, Senator Chuck Hagel, when he was senator, Senator Chuck Hagel, now secretary of Defense, and when I was a senator, we opposed the president’s decision to go into Iraq, but we know full well how that evidence was used to persuade all of us that authority ought to be given.

I can guarantee you, I’m not imprisoned by my memories of or experience in Vietnam, I’m informed by it.  And I’m not imprisoned by my memory of how that evidence was used, I’m informed by it.  And so is Chuck Hagel.  And we are informed sufficiently that we are absolutely committed to not putting any evidence in front of the American people that isn’t properly vetted, properly chased to ground and verified.  And we are both convinced that what we are putting before the American people is in the security interests of our country and it will not lead to some further engagement. [my emphasis]

John Kerry’s flip-flopping support for President Bush’s disastrous Iraq War was one of the most heavily litigated issues in the 2003 to 2004 Presidential campaign. Everyone knows he supported that war and only later came out against it.

And of course, a secret intelligence source called a roll call shows that both men did support Bush’s decision to go to war.

I suppose what John Kerry means — but is not saying explicitly — is that after the war started going south, he pointed to Bush’s politicized intelligence as an excuse for his vote (while still usually voting to fund the ongoing war).

But that points to the way the Syrian attack is most likely to be like the Iraq War: after all, had the war not turned out to be such a disaster, Bush’s lies to start it wouldn’t have mattered as much. Yet the war did turn out to be a disaster. The entirely foreseeable unintended consequences of the Iraq attack — not the lies about WMD — ultimately made support for Iraq toxic.

Remember, though: Bush lied not just about yellowcake and aluminum tubes, he also suppressed information about the possibility of an insurgency. And whereas the claims Kerry is making about the August 21 CW strike may be completely true (though his casualty claims appear not to be), his claims about what might happen if we overthrow Assad probably aren’t. According to Homeland Security Chair Mike McCaul, Kerry’s claims that only 15 to 25% of the rebels are extremists do not match what the intelligence community has briefed him (they’ve said over half of the fighters are extremists).

And so when Kerry says Syria will not be like Iraq — and misleadingly claims he and Hagel didn’t support the war they in fact voted for — he’s actually emphasizing the way it could very well be just like Iraq: in which the Administration presented a false picture about how easy the aftermath of the attack would be, which in turn led a lot of people — perhaps Kerry more than any other person — to regret their votes.

What matters about the Iraq War here is that it was sold as a cakewalk in spite of the fact the government knew an insurgency was likely, not that that cakewalk was sold using yellowcake and aluminum tubes. And in that sense, we already know the proposed Syria attack is like the Iraq War, because we know the government is fibbing about what might come next.

And that’s almost as readily apparent as is the misleading nature of Kerry’s claim that he (and Hagel) didn’t support Bush’s cakewalk.

Update: Meanwhile, the source Kerry cites for his estimates on numbers of extremists is a consultant for the rebels.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged members of the House of Representatives to read a Wall Street Journal op-ed by 26-year-old Elizabeth O’Bagy — an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War — who asserted that concerns about extremists dominating among the Syrian rebels are unfounded.

“Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaida die-hards,” O’Bagy wrote for the Journal on Aug. 30. “Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces,” she wrote.

But in addition to her work for the Institute for the Study of War, O’Bagy is also the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a group that advocates within the United States for Syria’s rebels — a fact that the Journal did not disclose in O’Bagy’s piece.
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Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. Casual Observer says:

    As with his Code Pink ad lib at the senate hearing (“I understand that dissenter–I used to be that”), Kerry is trying to sell himself to opposition that he totally gets them. Not working.

    Personally, I still think the jury’s out on who actually conducted the attack and what the weapon actually was. I see no benefit in giving Admin. the benefit of doubt on this one (not that you are–but there seems to be little questioning of Obama’s central claim that Assad is responsible for the attack).

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/your-labor-day-syria-reader-part-2-william-polk/279255/

  2. another observer says:

    I interpreted the quote differently, given the rest of the sentence:
    “… but we know full well how that evidence was used to persuade all of us that authority ought to be given.”

    I thought he meant that he was initially opposed to President Bush’s decision, but allowed himself to be persuaded by the “evidence” that was later shown to be faulty. That’s why he goes on later to try to assure people that the evidence this time can be trusted.

    Given what happened last time though, I don’t think the current administration gets to say “trust us.” They need to earn back the trust that was forfeited by the last administration.

  3. Neil says:

    This is not about the start of US engagement in Syria, it’s about escalating our engagement in a progression that may be more like Vietnam than Iraq.

    So far we have two options, status quo or bomb. We need a third. A third option is our countries path forward.

  4. Jessica says:

    Maybe I missed something in the Chris Hayes transcript (I didn’t watch the videos) but did Chris try to correct Kerry on his “opposition” to the war? Perhaps Hagel’s vote is less known, but unless you were 10 years old or living under a rock, you have to have known that Kerry voted for the Iraq war. (Maybe Chris was that young, I don’t know how old he is now.)

    At any rate, maybe Kerry means “opposed” the same way the NSA “collects” information – both have some esoteric definition that’s beyond the grasp of us mere constituents. But in my book, if you voted for a war, you signaled your support. And that shouldn’t disqualify any change of heart – I applaud such evolution. But if that same person is now vociferously agitating for a “second-verse, same-as-the-first” war, they clearly did not have a true change of heart. Opposition disqualified.

  5. Bay State Librul says:

    Did not know it was also a dance?

    cake·walk (kkwôk)
    n.
    1. Something easily accomplished: Winning the race was a cakewalk for her.

    2. A 19th-century public entertainment among African Americans in which walkers performing the most accomplished or amusing steps won cakes as prizes.

    3.
    a. A strutting dance, often performed in minstrel shows.

    b. The music for this dance.

    intr.v. cake·walked, cake·walk·ing, cake·walks
    To perform a strutting dance

  6. What Constitution? says:

    @Bay State Librul: You must be using a different dictionary than the one used by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Feith when they described the guaranteed course of the Iraq Liberation.

  7. Phil Perspective says:

    For the life of me, I don’t know why they’re doing this. But in both the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday and on Chris Hayes’ show yesterday, John Kerry made a remarkable claim.

    And it’s why I’ve lost all respect for Chris Hayes. He didn’t call Kerry out on such obvious blatant lying.

  8. Gaius says:

    According to Homeland Security Chair Mike McCaul, Kerry’s claims that only 15 to 25% of the rebels are extremists do not match what the intelligence community has briefed him (they’ve said over half of the fighters are extremists)

    The “do not match” link does not link to a source for ‘over half of the fighters being extremists’ brief, but instead links to the debates from a past presidential debate. Could you correct the link to point to the source?

  9. der says:

    Kerry should be as embarrassed as Colin Powell is for his cock-up presentation to the U.N. in 2003, must be something in the air or on the chair at the State Department desk ’cause it seems This Town Players are getting the band back together.

    – “The domino theory existed from the 1950s to the 1980s. It was promoted at times by the United States government and speculated that if one state in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect. The domino theory was used by successive United States administrations during the Cold War to justify the need for American intervention around the world.”

    Kerry replaces communism with chemical weapons makes the Sunday a.m. propaganda circuit and then goes out to brunch.

    Fresh out of HS in late ’69 with a brother already in Viet Nam like most blue collar boys I fell for that domino, fight ’em there instead of here shit and joined up thinking it was the right thing to do. Since then, obviously and as Obama would say of his Senate days – my thinking has changed.

    And for the young Ms. O’Bagy Mr. Secretary of State wants to point us to, here’s her boss:

    – Kimberly Kagan is the founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. She is the author of The Eye of Command (2006) and The Surge: a Military History (2009), and editor of The Imperial Moment (2010). Dr. Kagan co-produced The Surge: The Whole Story, an hour-long oral history and documentary film on the campaign in Iraq from 2007 to 2008.

    Dr. Kagan served in Kabul for seventeen months from 2010 to 2012 working for commanders of the International Security Assistance Force, General David H. Petraeus and subsequently General John Allen.

    Dr. Kagan previously served as a member of General Stanley McChrystal’s strategic assessment team, comprised of civilian experts, during his campaign review in June and July 2009. Dr. Kagan also serves on the Academic Advisory Board at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence at CENTCOM.
    – See more at: http://www.understandingwar.org/press-media/staff-bios/dr-kimberly-kagan#sthash.8gBni7qc.dpuf

    In so deep with the great warriors of recent days, what else would The Institute for the Study of War advocate for. If, as been reported, the Commander-in-Chief has had secret ninjas running around Syria for some months whispering in the ear of whatever war lord despot wanna’b then certainly, in my view, that same Supreme Leader would stay with his generals plans. Nothing’s changed same arrogant thinking like this guys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWGAdzn5_KU

    His mind’s made up. Good luck Alan Grayson.

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