AFTER TRAIN WRECKS on Meet the Press and Good Morning America, John Kerry took his tattered credibility to the friendly confines of Hardball, where a sympathetic and compliant Chris Matthews did his very best to help Kerry make it through at least one interview without wandering into bizarre asides, prolix dependent clauses, and baffling hedges.
Chris Matthews failed. On the bizarre side of the ledger, Kerry ended the interview by bringing up the fact that Karen Hughes had been born in Paris. Matthews was confused by this sudden turn of events and first indicated the interest that accompanies the revelation of a genuinely important fact, only to retreat into a forced laugh when Kerry indicated that he had made a joke.
The exchange of importance involved the invasion of Iraq and the WMD controversy. Here it is in its entirety:
Matthews: If there was an exaggeration of WMD, exaggeration of the danger, exaggeration implicitly of the connection to al Qaeda and 9/11, what's the motive for this, what's the "why?" Why did Bush and Cheney and the ideologues around take us to war? Why do you think they did it?
Kerry: It appears, as they peel away the weapons of mass destruction issue, and--we may yet find them, Chris. Look, I want to make it clear: Who knows if a month from now, you find some weapons. You may. But you certainly didn't find them where they said they were, and you certainly didn't find them in the quantities that they said they were. And they weren't found, and I have talked to some soldiers who have come back who trained against the potential of artillery delivery, because artillery was the way they had previously delivered and it was the only way they knew they could deliver. Now we found nothing that is evidence of that kind of delivery, so the fact is that as you peel it away I think it comes down to this larger ideological and neocon concept of fundamental change in the region and who knows whether there are other motives with respect to Saddam Hussein, but they did it because they thought they could, and because they misjudged exactly what the reaction would be and what they could get away with.
Kerry's answer is a jungle of dependent clauses and asides, but it deserves intense focus. Put aside the obvious reference to the left's theory that Bush took out Saddam to avenge Hussein's assassination attempt on the first President Bush, as well as the reference to the "neocons," which is verbal comfort food to the anti-Semitic loons in the audience. Let's take Kerry seriously for once.
Kerry acknowledges that WMD may yet be found. This admission destroys the left's critique of the war and months of "Bush lied!" rantings from the MoveOn.org swamp. Kerry knows what everyone with a memory knows: which is that Saddam had WMD and the world agreed he had them. Perhaps they were destroyed, perhaps hidden, perhaps trucked to Syria, but he had them. Thank you, Mr. Kerry, for your only contribution to the public's understanding of the war to date.
No sooner does he admit that the entire attack on Bush's credibility is a contrived, election-year stunt, then he goes on to fumble the issue by suggesting that only WMD in artillery shells matter to us, and that artillery was the only means available to Saddam to deliver WMD.
Two points, minor and major.
The minor point is that Saddam attack the Kurds in 1988 using chemical weapons delivered from planes. Kerry's statement that "artillery was the way they had previously delivered and it was the only way they knew they could deliver" is flat wrong. It is also easy to spot, and easy for the public to understand since they remember SCUDs hitting Israel in 1991.
The major point is that WMDs alarm us not only or even primarily when they are in artillery shells but when they are in the hands of terrorists. Had Chris Matthews been interested in actually asking a question that would have obliged the senator to show some thought, he would have inquired as to how much ricin is too much, or how great a biological threat has to exist in the lab before we take action.
Kerry's answer tells us that he fails to grasp the crucial issue of this campaign: the threat to America has changed, and our response has to change with it. Sure, he gave up a huge issue by admitting that WMD may yet be found in a transparent attempt to position himself against the possibility of their discovery before November, but more important than that admission is Kerry's display of what can only be called ignorance of the threat.
We should not be surprised. In his long career, Kerry has misjudged the threats posed by the Vietcong, the Soviets, the Sandinistas, and just about every other enemy the United States has faced. Now he has misjudged the threat posed by WMDs. Is America going to elect a "hear no evil, see no evil" president in the middle of a war that could go on for years to come?
Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.
© Copyright 2004, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.