Honor: John Kerry's lesson for Brian Baird

T.A. Barnhart

John Kerry lost the 2004 election for two reasons. One, the fix was in in Ohio. Second, he is a gentleman, a man of honor and decency, and he just never understood how ruthless and descipable his opponents were. (Having an inept campaign team didn't help, either.) But the same factors that made him a weak presidential candidate make him a great U.S. Senator.

John Kerry's Swiftboat crew in VietnamAbove all, honor. John Kerry not only joined the Navy during the Vietnam War, he had himself put into some of the most dangerous situations because that was the honorable thing to do. His country was at war, and a gentleman goes to the aid of the country. I don't agree with that thinking — Europe lost a generation of its best young men who believed that during World War I — but I respect the conviction that puts duty and honor before self.

Sen Kerry's honorable nature remains steadfast. When he was considering another try for the presidency, his party let him know that his run was not welcome and likely to be divisive. Kerry, an honorable man, respected the wishes of his colleagues and he put the party's goals before his own. He stepped down, which had to be a terribly difficult choice to make. After all, in 2004 he came so close; I'm sure he'd read Robert Kennedy, Jr's, article in Rolling Stone detailing how he, like Al Gore, was the victim of the most heinous political criminality.

More than anything, however, it's Kerry's honest, on-going confession that he was wrong to vote for the war in Iraq that demonstrates that he is, above all, an honorable man.

In today's Huffington Post, he excoriates the Bush Administration and their Republican flunkies in Congress for their abject failures in Iraq. Sen Kerry chaired the hearing on the GAO report which demonstrated, point by point, how the "surge" has failed to do the one thing it was meant to do:

I know from experience that there's no such thing as a military solution to a situation like this, and no amount of "metrics" can create one. Our own generals have always confirmed this about Iraq. And by the way — go read all of the statements at the time about the "reason" for the escalation — it was to buy political breathing room for Iraqis to compromise. Period. It hasn't happened. So it all boils down to the same thing: these are more "steps" that don't get you any closer to your real goals, "successes" that don't lead to any resolution.

This is a war John Kerry endorsed, a war that is one of the worst mistakes our country has ever made, perhaps only behind slavery and Vietnam. When the time came for John Kerry to decide about this war, he got his vote completely wrong. So did Hillary Clinton, but she continues, and sadly seems to be succeeding at, to evade personal responsibility for her vote — her failure. Not John Kerry (nor, for that matter, John Edwards, someone I admire more and more even though I back Barack Obama). The most important vote John Kerry may have ever had to make in his career in the Senate, and he got it wrong — yet he refuses to back down from that error. He stands as tall in his admission of failure as he does when detailing the many fine things he has done in public service.

And now he will be leading the fight to force a firm date for withdrawal from Iraq.

A political solution in Iraq cannot come about without a clear deadline on where our troops will be pulling out. Only Iraqis can end this civil war, and they aren't — and won't be — making any progress with an open-ended, massive presence by our military in their country.

As any 14-year-old with a lick of sense might say, no duh.

When I read Sen Kerry's article, the first thing I did was call his office in Boston and thank him for what he is doing to end the war. I was asked to leave a voice message with my statement — not thanked and told goodbye, but asked to share what I felt. Sen Kerry and his office clearly value the thoughts and support from all Americans.

Brain Baird's office? Not so much. From his Vancouver office, I got a surly "uh huh, ok" and no indication my message was going to be heard. The woman in his DC office, however, did say she would pass my message along (my message being: Rep Baird was right before he went to Iraq, wrong after he got back, and he needs to read Sen Kerry's article, and oh by the way, I don't want my son sent to Iraq thank you very much).

This is a very simple issue, and it always has been. This was always the wrong war (as if there ever is a right war). It must end now. We have demonstrated repeatedly that there is nothing we can do to force the Iraqis to settle their issues peacefully. This is likely to be Yugoslavia all over again. Centuries of hate and antagonism were just too strong; nothing was going to stop people from having a jolly good go at slaughtering the bejeezus out of each other. The Iraqis are determined to shed a hell of a lot of blood, and the only way we can stop them is the same way Saddam stopped them (and Tito stopped the so-called Yugoslavians): tyranny and violent repression.

John Kerry does not say that an American withdrawal from Iraq will not be horrible for many Iraqis. But until we set the date for our occupation to end, they will keep on keeping on. They are like a bunch of drunks, sitting around and singing that old Robert Earl Keen song: "The road goes on forever and the party never ends!" Until we take away all the bottles, turn off the jukebox and force them to sober up, they'll just keep on with their current actions. Perhaps seeing our forces leave may get them to change course and finally come to a political settlement. I know most people doubt that; more likely will be an escalation in violence, the appearance of Iran to "help" and any number of other outcomes we in the U.S. won't be exactly jiggy wid.

the Killing Fields of Cambodia were stopped by VietnamThe alternative is to keep killing our troops, the contractors Halliburton bribes, and tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens. President Bush, in comparing Iraq to Vietnam (perversely saying we left that war too soon), said one outcome was a thing called "killing fields". As ever, he got that wrong. The killing fields were in Cambodia, after we left Vietnam, and had nothing to do with that war. Ironically, from a commie-hating American point of view, it was the Vietnamese who stopped Pol Pot's genocide. Ending the war in Vietnam, which we did by leaving, had nothing to do with the killing fields; it was halted by those terrible Communists we could not defeat in battle. It's possible that Iran may serve a similar purpose in Iraq once we are gone, but only in league with other nations. One outcome of this idiotic war: We are going to have depend on Iraq's neighbors to bring peace, as well as the same European nations that did nothing to stop the Bosnian genocide.

One thing is clear: We broke Iraq, but we can't fix it. The shame of America's arrogance, violence and stupidity will haunt us for generations. We've made enemies where should have been friends and allies; and further tragedy is going to follow these mistakes that could, and should, have been avoided. No amount of bloodshed can undo what Bush and his people have done, what the American people have allowed them to do. No matter how long we stay there, how many Iraqis and Saudis we kill in battle, how many civilians we slaughter with our warfare, no matter how many of our own people we sacrifice, we will never fix what we have done to Iraq by remaining there as an occupying, war-making force.

The one thing we can do is get the hell out of there. Once we are gone, the Iraqi people can start taking full responsibility for their nation. Wasn't that the goal, after all? With our warmaking and occupation ended, we can begin to work in concert with the rest of the world. Once the violence has run its course, we can supply real humanitarian and economic aid, and we can support our allies who night have influence (France and Germany, for example, or Jordan and Egypt). But while we remain, the only outcome will be death.

John Kerry has been to war, and he knows its realities. He has also failed as a public servant, by voting to authorize this debacle, but he has never shied from owning up to that failure. Today he stands up for the only course of action that has any hope of bringing peace to Iraq: an American withdrawal, the date set in stone and the consequences being left to the Iraqis to decide.

I'll be working continuously this month trying to set a deadline to force a new policy in Iraq. I'll try to stop by as often as I can this month with ways you can, if you choose, put the pressure on the Roadblock Republicans to force them to take a new tack. In the end, it's been sustained action by millions of activists that have gotten us this far, and it's only through the loud voices of those activists that we can get what's right — an end to the Bush doctrine in Iraq, and a policy worthy of our soldiers' sacrifice.

Rather than work to fix what he got wrong, Sen Kerry could have chosen to hide behind rationalizations and freshly invented benchmarks; he could, like Mitch McConnell and other right-wing toadies, have found new reasons to continue with the failures in the hope that doing so would let him evade his own ultimate responsibility.

But that's what cowards and dishonorable thugs do. Gentlemen of honor own up to their mistakes and work to correct them. They speak truth, no matter how personally costly. John Kerry knows that as he works to end this war, he helped begin it. He carries the knowledge that his acquiescence to Bush's lies — at best, that he was suckered by Rove and Cheney — allowed this bloodbath to begin. But he's an honorable man, and a courageous one, and he doesn't let a little thing like pride get in the way of doing the right thing.

Or perhaps pride is why he is working so hard to undo his mistake. After all, the people who are truly responsible for this war have shown neither pride, nor courage, nor honor. Only avarice, disregard for human life, a level of hubris that would gobsmack Shakespeare, and a lust to spend endless amounts of blood in the name of God and petroleum.

I only hope Brian Baird observes the example of John Kerry and comes to his senses. Otherwise he will find himself one day full of regret for the deaths he caused by failing not only to have the courage to admit his own mistake but the honor to admit that mistake and then do what is right. But unlike John Kerry in the Senate today, it will be too late for Rep Baird to do anything but regret. Not a very honorable course of action.

  • AllDemsonBoard (unverified)

    Wow, what a completely irrational post!

  • MH (unverified)


    T.A., I think I get what you're saying but you may want to proofread this and I think in this case it would be ethical to make some obvious corrections.

    Or if I am mistaken about your meaning, then I agree with AllDemsonBoard!

    (but a point of clarification: IWR vote was not a "vote for war" and Kerry never supported the invasion. There has been a lot of media manipulation about that though, so that part of your post is somewhat forgivable.)

  • Sandy (unverified)

    Interesting commentary on the war. But next time, how about you leave John Kerry's good name out of it. The Honorable Senator deserves much better than this.

  • huh? (unverified)

    Second, he is a gentleman, a man of honor and despicable, and he just never understood how ruthless and dishonorable his opponents were.

    He was a man of honor and despicable? That just doesn't make any sense. Proofread please!

  • (Show?)

    John Kerry never would have had the Democratic nomination in 2004 if had voted against the war powers resolution -- it was exactly his supposed realism in buying into the purblind conventional wisdom on Iraq, and systematically excluding the readily available views of the most knowledgeable (the U.N. inspectors) that got him defined as "most electable" according to timid Democratic establishment definitions of electability.

    It is true that Bush lied in his teeth about the resolution, saying he would give the new round of U.N. inspectors time to do their work. But even at the time it was transparent that that was a lie -- Bush treated Hussein's denials that he had Ws of MD as in itself proof of mendacity, rather than empirical proposition to be tested -- it turned out that Hussein wasn't lying, so there was no way he could have prevented the Bush aggression, since he didn't have any hidden Ws of MD to reveal. But neither Kerry nor any other establishment figures seriously questioned the Bush posture.

    Kerry lost the election by more than just chicanery. He lost the popular vote by more than Al Gore won it. If he had won Ohio, he would have been in a weak position. If we're against the undemocratic electoral college system, we should be consistent.

  • KP (unverified)

    You may want to read the speech John Kerry gave when he voted for the IWR in October 2002. He voted to give the president a united front behind the efforts Bush promised to make to go to the UN and get invasive inspections in Iraq and to go to war only as a last resort. He then said - showing that he wasn't taking Bush completely at face value, that if Bush did not keep these promises, he would be the first to speak out.

    On January 23 2003, when there was talk of imminent war, Kerry gave a speech where he accused Bush of not exhausting the diplomacy, not allowing the inspections to be completed and of ended by demanding that Bush not rush to war. Kerry continued speaking to people trying to push diplomacy. On a 2003 Hardball show, he spoke of hearing from Koffi Annan, at the UN,that Bush had closed off all diplomatic efforts. (This is unlike Edwards who was a co-sponsor of the amendment and was FOR the was through 2003 or Clinton who did not speak against going to war.)

    You may remember that all through 2004, Kerry spoke of Bush misleading us to war, by not exhausting the diplomacy, not completing the inspections, not planning for the peace and not keeping war as a last resort. Note that these match the 2002 and 2003 words. To Catholics, and most Christians, being a war of last resort and things like preparing for the peace are part of what is necessary to be a just war. Kerry was thus calling the war unjust as he ran for President. He also spoke of obeying international law - which Bush didn't. As Kerry often said, saying he would go to war as a last resort means something. (those are the lies that Kerry knew for a fact in 2004 - until 2005, it could not be proven Bush lied on WMD).

    Throughout 2004, Kerry defended his vote - explaining that in similar circumstances that would be an authority he would want the Congress to trust him with. The problem there is that as you mention, Kerry is an honorable man and if he said he would go to war only as a last resort, you know he would work his heart out trying to solve the problem diplomatically - and in this case there would have been no war. The problem was trusting Bush to be honorable - he wasn't and it was wrong to vote that way.

    This is something Kerry has taken responsibility for. In his Senate speech where he said he wouldn't run, he first gave a brilliant analysis of Iraqi history, the war and where we are going in the middle east, then he spoke of his 1971 testimony and spoke of never expecting to ask the same questions, then he defended his 2004 campaign and briefly spoke of why he had thought to run again, then said he wasn't running and that he would focus on the war and global warming as things needed to be done now that would be hard to do if he ran for President. The second most famous question he asked in 1971 was "Where are the leaders of the country" - in this speech, he answered for himself as one of the leaders, a leader against the war from the beginning who had voted for the authority (which he mentioned in this speech), and he was answering that 1971 question by saying that he was not abandoning the soldiers there but working to get the policy right.

    Since he lost, Kerry has been a leader as you say in trying to get us out and create some stability. You are completely right that Kerry is honorable and a gentleman - he also would have been a great President.

  • Harry (unverified)

    This post is very hard to follow. Despicable and honorable? That is just the half of it.

    I guess this is a good example to prove Kari's point: The contibutors are not censored, reviewed or even proof read before they get to post things on this blog, that is for sure. Whatever!

  • (Show?)

    Anyone who voted for the Iraq AUMF voted to give the administration of George W. Bush authorization to use military force in Iraq. No matter how noble their motivations might have been, they were giving that approval to Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and a band of other people who were blatantly lying to them about Iraq's smoking mushroom clouds of WMDs.

    Kerry trusted Bush & Co. not to do anything bad with the power they'd been vested with. He shouldn't have. The fact that Bush was untrustworthy should have been apparent long before the Iraq war was ramped up.

  • Big Barton (unverified)

    The photo of the skulls from Choeung Ek was a nice touch- highly relevant, I'm sure.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Boy-oh-boy, TA. Did you go out on a limb with that cherry-picked bio on Kerry?

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: darrelplant | Sep 6, 2007 3:52:23 PM Anyone who voted for the Iraq AUMF voted to give the administration of George W. Bush authorization to use military force in Iraq. No matter how noble their motivations might have been, they were giving that approval to Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and a band of other people who were blatantly lying to them about Iraq's smoking mushroom clouds of WMDs.

    Correct to a point. It doesn't matter what Kerry wanted, its what he voted to allow (whether he believe Bush or not about allowing the UN inspections to be the real arbiter about what threat Iraq posed.. which of course was none).

    But if you go back and read the September 18, 2001 AUMF, Bush could have and would have invaded Iraq anyway. The 2002 AUMF vote (i.e. the "Iraq War Vote") was political Kabuki (at best) and a farcical manipulative political trap (more likely). In 2001, Congress ceded all its war powers with the earlier AUMF. Bush (and the next President) can attack anyone, anywhere, anytime in the world (including here on US soil, Posse Comitatus be damned) on his say so alone without ANY need for authorization from Congress. And every single Congress person save one voted for it.

    Even during WWII Roosevelt had to come back to Congress every six months to get reauthorization, and that was by almost universal assesment considered a justified and necessary war. Yet Congress in 2001 so wet the bed over 9/11 they threw away our Constitutional checks and balances clean out the window with both hands, and raced as fast as possible to wave their collective dicks in the air about how patriotic they were and sing God Bless America on the steps of Congress.

    This is one reason I have next to no respect for ANY of our elected Senators and Congress-people, including our entire Oregon delegation when it comes to defending the Constitution or their "position on the war". Until they have the balls to shut down GOv. until they reclaim war powers, they are basically jerking-off the public.

  • (Show?)

    let this be a lesson in how 1) proofing a piece can be vital (i usually wait a few hours to do a final proof, but i had ot leave for the day and thought it was important to note the Dems are beginning their assault on Bush's war policy) and 2) how easy it is for some people to be distracted by pretty shiny -- and typos.

    and because i can, i corrected the errors. if anyone wonders what people are talking about, it's cuz i fixed what i busted. something beyond Bush's power to do.

  • Anon (unverified)

    Brian Baird - are you being blackmailed by the Bushies with information obtained from secret illegal wiretaps of your personal conversations? Because that's about the only way I can understand your apparent political lobotomy.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Brian Baird needs to experience the consequences of a betrayal of his base of supporters, and a betrayal of his own alleged conscience based positions that he ran on, and articulated to his constituents. He needs to be kicked to the curb come primary season. period....

  • Harry (unverified)
    <h2>"Brian Baird - are you being blackmailed by the Bushies with information obtained from secret illegal wiretaps of your personal conversations?"</h2>

    No, not wiretaps. They were secret illegal toetappings. Some Bushies caught him in a airport restroom stall tapping his toes and waving his fingers.

    But in this post-Craig era, any married man is now very vulnerable to this sort of black-mail.

    Kind of the modern day equivalent to the old charge of "When did you stop beating your wife?"

    Today, the version of that question is: "Are you gay and cruising for anonomous sex in public restrooms?" (not that there's anything wrong with that)

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    No, not wiretaps. They were secret illegal toetappings. Some Bushies caught him in a airport restroom stall tapping his toes and waving his fingers.

    Harry: Unless you have evidence supporting your allegation I would guess, not being a lawyer, your remark is slanderous. You may have intended that as sarcasm or some form of humor. If so, you should leave that sort of thing to people with more skill than you appear to have. I am also not a fan of Brian Baird.

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)

    Brian Baird? He appears to have the courage of his ocnvictions. He has decided to stand up to the same room of impeachment-raving crazies that have descended on Wyden, Hooley, et. al. and tell them why he thinks they are wrong.

    I happen to think Brian Baird is wrong - that it's time to get out of Iraq - but I certainly wouldn't vote for a Republican against him, or try to pull a "Lieberman" on him. He undoubtedly knows the easy course would be to agree with the ravers at his meetings, but he doesn't think that's the right thing to do. You have to respect that.

    As for John Kerry, I think he was a terrible candidate, and from what I've read he is, unlike our current President, a real jerk. I voted for him, and he would have made a better President that our current disaster, but the Democrats could have done a lot better (and are doing a lot better this time around, with three candidates who would all make a good President). It is perhaps a tribute to the weakness of George W. Bush that a candidate like Kerry could come so close to winning. If Kerry had run in the 1980's he would have been even less successful than Mondale or Dukakis.

    And stop the Ohio nonsense. Kerry lost fair and square.

  • (Show?)

    Torquemada had the courge of his convictions too. So what?

    Baird was bamboozled with a PR dog and pony show, and was rolled. He is a flaming idiot who I would love to get into a high-stakes poker game with (and I suck at cards) because I could always use some extra cash (who couldn't?).

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)

    So, lestatdelc, do you want to impeach Brian Baird too?

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: Urban Planning Overlord | Sep 7, 2007 2:42:09 PM So, lestatdelc, do you want to impeach Brian Baird too?

    Impeachment is not the mechanism for removal of a member of Congress. The House has the authority to expel their own members—without involving the other chamber — as impeachment would require, expulsion is the common method of removing Members of Congress.

    That said, I would note that Brian Baird isn't in my view guilty of abuse of office, etc. ...just that he is guilty of being an flaming idiot.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    T.A., another perspective.

    Kerry is despicable and has no honor. Had the democrats not panicked and allowed the primary process to play out Edwards would have the nomination and Bush would be a former president.

    Kerry's actions going into the military during Vietnam were far better than Bush (who enlisted in the TX Air Guard) and Clinton (who actively resisted the draft and any type of service at all). I must grant him that.

    As the son of a career military officer who served in Vietnam I can say that most officers saw Kerry as someone who wasn't there out of honor, rather there to punch a ticket (get in/get out/get on w/politics). He was not a good officer and actually created danger for the men under him and their mission. Not suprisingly, most who served in uniform during that time have different political views than Kerry and abhor his actions immediately after leaving Nam.

    Kerry painted all who served with the same broad brush of blame for atrocities and violence that was never substantiated or corroborated. For that many, myself included will never forgive him.

    Kerry underestimated the memory of those who are from the Vietnam Era. When he tried to play the war hero card it boomeranged on him. After that his only nessage was "I'm not the incumbant". He had results similar to Dole in his campaign.

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