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THE ICONOCLAST | MICKEY EDWARDS

Kerry's recklessly prowar positions

AFTER MONTHS of watching John Kerry flip, flop, wiggle, waffle, and otherwise appear wobbly and indecisive (a quality that would make it far too risky a bet to entrust him with the nation's security), I have come to the distressing conclusion that I have sorely misjudged the man.

I have supported the president at least in part because I have considered him the candidate most likely to defend American soil and American interests against whatever perils may lurk. Even though Bush was mistaken in the assumptions that led him to pursue military action in Iraq, my evaluation of his performance has taken into account the fact that the assumptions on which he acted were shared by political leaders of both parties and based on analysis with which most of the free world's intelligence services concurred.

The president has additionally argued that in any case there are beneficial results to be had from this war, including the removal of a mass murderer from power and the possibility of creating a stable democracy in the Muslim Middle East, something many Muslim intellectuals have long urged.

That's it: That's the entirety of the Bush justification of the war. At no point has the president gone so far as to say that he would have gone to war in Iraq even if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction. I know of no leading American "hawk," not even among the most militant of the neocons, who has said he or she would have supported going to war if it were absolutely known that the perceived "imminent threat" did not exist.

The only public figure to take such a wildly aggressive position is America's new uber-militarist, John Forbes Kerry. Perhaps that is why so much of his campaign has looked like the military on parade, Kerry in uniform, Kerry saluting, Kerry reporting for duty. Because I, like most Americans, worry about the nation's safety and want above all a president willing to take bold steps for our protection, I now have to wonder whether I've been backing the wrong horse in this race. A man who is willing to go to war even with no evidence of threat to the United States, now that's a man to consider. Who decidesKerry says he voted to authorize military action in Iraq (yes, I know, he says that's not the same as voting to authorize going to war; you'll pardon me if I roll my eyes) because he thought it was an option the president should have.

There is a reason why the Founding Fathers withheld from the president the power to take the nation to war, a power enjoyed by most chief executives (kings, mostly) in that day. It is because the Founders believed we should not go to war unless the peoples' representatives themselves made that decision. The power to declare war is specifically reserved to the Congress and it is the single most important of all the powers our representatives have.

Kerry is disturbingly cavalier about the disposition of that power; to give the president the authority to go to war if he deems it advisable (sort of a modern-day version of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and look where that took us) is an abdication of congressional responsibility and not an attitude Kerry should want to advertise. The ladiesPerhaps it was inevitable in the post-Hillary world, but there is now a sub-campaign developing: not between John Edwards and Dick Cheney, though that contest will have its day, but between the two ladies running for the position of presidential spouse.

Kerry makes much reference to his admiration for Mrs. Kerry and she has taken on a major part of the campaign effort with her own quite effective performance in public gatherings. Bush has taken to suggesting that one major reason to reelect him is to ensure that his wife is kept on as the nation's first lady. Mrs. Bush, too, has become quite effective in speaking for her husband in raising money for his campaign. Because the two women are so dissimilar in style and attitude, they, perhaps more even than their husbands, reflect the red-state, blue-state divide; both seem fine women but it is hard to imagine two women less alike. The day that disappearedKerry's supporters find it reprehensible that Bush's campaign continues to discuss the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the various ways in which he and his administration have responded to the terrorist threat since that time. They would expunge the most traumatic moment of recent years from the public debate in the midst of an election campaign that may well turn on the public's judgment of the president's response to the events of that day.

The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, suggests that would be like insisting that Abraham Lincoln run for reelection without reference to the Civil War in which the United States was then engaged. Or perhaps it is only the attack on Fort Sumter that should have been off-limits.

Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, teaches at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs. His column appears regularly in the Globe. 

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