If we are to criticize John Kerry for his poor messaging related to the Iraq war since the campaign started (and there’s no doubt some of that criticism is deserved) and for the evolution he had or didn’t have between his vote against the first gulf war and for the second (less a topic of discussion in this campaign than one would have imagined), then we should at least credit him for having much more foresight than the current president about what was at stake if his vote to authorize force was abused by this administration (run-on sentence thematically intended, of course).
Here is an outtake from the speech Kerry gave in October of 2002 just before offering his vote to give the President the authority to use force:
Let me clear. The vote I will give the President is for one reason and one reason only; to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies.
In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days – to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.
If we do wind up going to war with Iraq , it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community, unless there is a showing of a grave, imminent – and I emphasize “imminent” – threat to this country which requires the President to respond in a way that protects our immediate national security needs.
… The administration may not be in the habit of building coalitions, but that is what they need to do. And it is what can be done. If we go it alone without reason, we risk inflaming an entire region, breeding a new generation of terrorists, a new cadre of anti-American zealots, and we will be less secure, not more secure, at the end of the day, even with Saddam Hussein disarmed.
Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances.
In voting to grant the President the authority, I am not giving him carte blanche to run roughshod over every country that poses or may pose some kind of potential threat to the United States. Every nation has the right to act preemptively, if it faces an imminent and grave threat, for its self-defense under the standards of law. The threat we face today with Iraq does not meet that test yet. I emphasize “yet.” Yes, it is grave because of the deadliness of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal and the very high probability that he might use these weapons one day if not disarmed. But it is not imminent, and no one in the CIA, no intelligence briefing we have had suggests it is imminent. None of our intelligence reports suggest that he is about to launch an attack.