If John Kerry Were President ...

William Kristol | The Weekly Standard | Thursday, September 9, 2004

If John Kerry Were President ...

September 9, 2004

SO MUCH for the much-promised Kerry foreign policy speech. In Cincinnati this week, John Kerry basically repeated his stump speech, with no sustained discussion of Iraq, the war on terror, or foreign policy in general. An astonishingly weak performance.

Is Kerry so wrapped around the axle on Iraq that he's now incapable of talking about Iraq in a serious and sustained way?

Still, it does seem that Kerry has finally come down, this week, on one side of a debate that really does have only two sides. He has decided he's against the war in Iraq. It was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Fine. Now we have a clear choice in the presidential election. Bush went to war to remove Saddam. Kerry, it now appears, would not have. This means the choice is between the world we have now, and a world with Saddam still in power. For the meaning of saying we fought the wrong war at the wrong time, is that we would have been better off leaving Saddam in power. If John Kerry were president, Saddam would still be in power.

So Kerry has to answer this question: Would we be safer with Saddam still in power? Would the world? What would such a world look like? Surely we couldn't have left 150,000 troops in the nations bordering Iraq for two years. Surely, then, the inspectors would once again have been expelled. And the sanctions regime was collapsing.

Does Kerry then believe Saddam would not have moved to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction? Would that have been acceptable? Does Kerry believe pro-American, anti-terror forces in the Middle East, to say nothing of the forces of reform in that region, would be stronger or weaker if Saddam were still in power?

What would have been the global effect on American credibility if we had authorized the president to use force, as Kerry voted to do, and then backed off? And what would a Kerry administration do now? How could a President Kerry ask any young American to be the last one to die for a mistake?

These are among the serious questions that have to be answered. Senator Kerry addressed none of them in Cincinnati, and has not answered them anywhere else. It is possible to disagree with the judgment that it was right to remove Saddam. It is irresponsible to denounce that "wrong choice," and the actions that followed from it, without addressing the consequences that would have followed from not going to war.

Senator Kerry is running a fundamentally evasive and deeply irresponsible campaign.

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.