Bush Campaign Lies

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Bush Campaign Lie #46: Kerry Flip-Flopped On 1991 Iraq War Coalition 

This is 32nd item listed in the Republican pantheon of Kerry flip-flops. The Republicans provide two Kerry quotes as supporting evidence.

The first quote comes from the January 16, 1991 broadcast of 'CBS This Morning'. As usual, the Republicans have deleted parts they'd rather not have people see. Since the transcript isn't available anywhere on the web, I paid $16 and got a copy from Burelle's transcripts. Here's the full context of Kerry's quote, with the Republican bit in red:

I keep hearing from people, well, the coalition is fragile, it won't stay together and my--my response to that is, if the coalition is so fragile, then what are the vital interests and what is it that compels us to risk our young Americans lives if the others aren't willing to stay the core of peace--course of peace?

But, having said that, it is vital and--and I know Chuck feels this adamantly and it's part of the Vietnam experience, that we come together as a country. I voted against the president, I'm convinced we're doing this the wrong way, but I'm going to back the president if a shot is fired and from the moment that begins, my interest is in those troops and bringing those troops back with missions accomplished and the minimum amount of casualties.
The second Kerry quote comes from an interview on NBC's Meet The Press on January 11, 2004, and this time nothing significant is left out of the Republican quote:

In my speech on the floor of the Senate I made it clear, you are strongest when you act with other nations. All presidents, historically, his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, did a brilliant job of building a legitimate coalition and even got other people to help pay for the war.
What this boils down to is the distinction between a 'fragile' coalition and a 'legitimate' one. Note that those two concepts are not necessarily opposites of one another. It's possible for a 'legitimate' coalition to be fragile.

The other thing to note is that Kerry isn't expressing a personal opinion in these statements so much as he is simply laying out the facts. At least in 1991, before the war started, it was hardly controversial to say that the coalition was fragile. Indeed, it was widely believed that if the U.S. attacked Iraq, the Iraqis would immediately attack Israel, thus forcing some or all Arab and Muslim nations to drop out of the coalition or, worse, to take the Iraqi side. The Centre for Defense and International Security Studies provides a reminder:

Political considerations concerning the possible result of Iraqi Scud attacks on Israel were of grave concern to US Government leaders in Washington DC, especially if some of the missiles were fitted with chemical or biological weapons (CBW) warheads. Long-held Israeli threats to retaliate massively against an Iraqi attack were potentially very damaging to the solidarity of the anti-Iraqi Coalition.
Fifteen of the 34 coalition nations were either Arab or Muslim. If they ended up having to choose between siding with Iraq or appearing to side with Israel, the coalition wouldn't have lasted very long at all. Indeed, on the very same 'CBS This Morning' program on which Kerry made his 'fragile' comment, CBS News' Bob Simon reported:

. . .the possibility of Saddam lancing some--launching some missiles towards Israel and getting Israel involved in this thing is considered a prime danger by all the American commanders and they will want to neutralize these missile bases in western Iraq before this can happen because it could--it could make the--the entire alliance that the Americans have spent so much time forming a non-entity.
It's pretty clear that Kerry called the 1991 coalition fragile because it was fragile, and it's quite likely that the only reason it held together is that the war proved to be very successful and very brief, and because Hussein never launched a credible attack against Israel. But before the war, no one could have reasonably expected things to go that well.

Whether the 2003 'Coalition of the Willing' was any more or less legitimate than the 1991 coalition is almost surely a matter of opinion, and it's really not clear why Kerry thinks the '91 coalition had legitimacy the '03 coalition lacks. However, a little research shows:

That might be why Kerry suggested that the '91 coalition was legitimate, while the '03 coalition was not. But that's just a guess.

11:52 PM