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Kerry, Too, Needs to Clear the Air

By Scott Ritter

February 9, 2004: (Newsday) On April 23, 1971, a 27-year-old Navy veteran named John Kerry sat before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and chided members on their leadership failures regarding the war in Vietnam.

"Where is the leadership?" Kerry, a decorated hero who had proved his courage under fire, demanded of the senators. "Where are they now that we, the men they sent off to war, have returned?" Kerry lambasted those who had pushed so strongly for war in Vietnam. "These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude."

Today, on the issue of the war in Iraq, it is John Kerry who is all pious rectitude.

"I think the administration owes the entire country a full explanation on this war - not just their exaggerations but on the failure of American intelligence," Kerry said following the stunning announcement by David Kay, the Bush administration's former lead investigator in Iraq, that "we were all wrong" about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in that country. The problem for Sen. Kerry, of course, is that he, too, is culpable in the massive breach of public trust that has come to light regarding Iraq, WMD and the rush to war.

Almost 30 years after his appearance before the Senate, Sen. Kerry was given the opportunity to make good on his promises that he had learned the lessons of Vietnam. During a visit to Washington in April 2000, when I lobbied senators and representatives for a full review of American policy regarding Iraq, I spoke with John Kerry about what I held to be the hyped-up intelligence regarding the threat posed by Iraq's WMD. "Put it in writing," Kerry told me, "and send it to me so I can review what you're saying in detail."

I did just that, penning a comprehensive article for Arms Control Today, the journal of the Arms Control Association, on the "Case for the Qualitative Disarmament of Iraq." This article, published in June 2000, provided a detailed breakdown of Iraq's WMD capability and made a comprehensive case that Iraq did not pose an imminent threat. I asked the Arms Control Association to send several copies to Sen. Kerry's office but, just to make sure, I sent him one myself. I never heard back from the senator.

Two years later, in the buildup toward war that took place in the summer of 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Kerry sits, convened a hearing on Iraq. At that hearing a parade of witnesses appeared, testifying to the existence of WMD in Iraq. Featured prominently was Khidir Hamza, the self-proclaimed "bombmaker to Saddam," who gave stirring first-hand testimony to the existence of not only nuclear weapons capability, but also chemical and biological weapons as well. Every word of Hamza's testimony has since been proved false. Despite receiving thousands of phone calls, letters and e-mails demanding that dissenting expert opinion, including my own, be aired at the hearing, Sen. Kerry apparently did nothing, allowing a sham hearing to conclude with the finding that there was "no doubt" Saddam Hussein had WMD.

Sen. Kerry followed up this performance in October 2002 by voting for the war in Iraq. Today he justifies that vote by noting that he only approved the "threat of war," and that the blame for Iraq rests with President George W. Bush, who failed to assemble adequate international support for the war. But this explanation rings hollow in the face of David Kay's findings that there are no WMD in Iraq. With the stated casus belli shown to be false, John Kerry needs to better explain his role not only in propelling our nation into a war that is rapidly devolving into a quagmire, but more importantly, his perpetuation of the falsehoods that got us there to begin with.

President Bush should rightly be held accountable for what increasingly appears to be deliberately misleading statements made by him and members of his administration regarding the threat posed by Iraq's WMD. If such deception took place, then Bush no longer deserves the trust and confidence of the American people.

But John Kerry seems to share in this culpability, and if he wants to be the next president of the United States, he must first convince the American people that his actions somehow differ from those of the man he seeks to replace.

"Where is the leadership?" John Kerry asked more than 30 years ago, questioning a war that consumed life, money and national honor. Today this question still hangs in the air, haunting a former Navy combat veteran who needs to convince a skeptical nation that he not only has a plan to get America out of Iraq, but also possesses the leadership skills needed to avoid future ill-advised adventures. 

Scott Ritter, former UN chief inspector in Iraq, 1991-1998, is the author of "Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America."

Copyright 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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