FOX News Channel chief political correspondent Carl Cameron echoed false Republican charges that Senator John Kerry's recent statements explaining his position on the war in Iraq contradict his earlier statements. On September 21, Cameron played and read a series of clips and quotations of Kerry -- many of them also listed in Bush-Cheney '04 and Republican National Committee (RNC) campaign materials attacking Kerry -- and suggested they were contradictory. In fact, they are consistent.
From the September 21 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume:
CAMERON: Kerry vigorously denies the president's charge that he's flip-flopped on Iraq more than a dozen times over the last two years.
But Kerry has struggled to streamline and clarify his position for months. He denies it's been evolving.
KERRY: [video clip from a September 21 press conference] What I have always said is that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. The question is how you do it.
CAMERON: But that seems to contradict what Kerry said just last night on the Letterman show. Senator Kerry said he would not have overthrown Saddam, even though he believed the intelligence two years ago that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
LETTERMAN: [clip from the September 20 edition of CBS's Late Show with David Letterman] If you'd been elected president in 2000 -- November of 2000, would we have been in Iraq now?
KERRY: No. [end clip]
CAMERON: A simple, one-word answer, and Republicans call it the mother of all flip-flops.
Cameron apparently felt the need to maintain a pretense of detachment by noting that "Republicans call it" a flip-flop, even though moments before, Cameron himself had noted that Kerry's September 21 statement "seems to contradict" what Kerry previously said.
Contrary to Cameron's assertion, the Kerry statements he quoted are consistent. In fact, Kerry had explained the continuity of his statements in his September 21 press conference, apparently in response to a question from Cameron himself. Kerry's point was that the world is better off without Hussein in power, but the costs of removing him in the manner that President George W. Bush did outweighed the benefits:
KERRY: Because, Carl, for several reasons. First of all, it's obvious. If he is gone, the world is better off without him. Everybody understands that. He's a brutal dictator and, as I said yesterday in my speech, he deserves his own special place in hell, but that doesn't mean that you go to war in an irresponsible way that puts America at greater risk. That doesn't mean you take your eye off the ball, which was Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and rush to war just to get rid of him. Are we better off without him? Sure, but what they've [the Bush administration] done is, as I said in my speech, yesterday, they have replaced a dictator with chaos, and chaos in a way that puts America and Iraqis at much greater risk. I believe there was a more responsible way to do it. If you don't have weapons of mass destruction, believe me, Saddam Hussein is a very different person.
On September 21, Cameron continued with more examples of supposed Kerry contradictions, using quotations from Kerry that also appear in Bush campaign materials attacking Kerry as a flip-flopper:
CAMERON: Kerry now says Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time, but this is what he said before the invasion.
KERRY: [clip from an October 2002 speech to the U.S. Senate] I think it would be naive to the point of grave danger not to believe that, left to his own devices, Saddam Hussein will provoke, misjudge, or stumble into a future more dangerous confrontation with the civilized world. [cf: RNC fact sheet, June 17]
CAMERON: And this was Kerry after the invasion.
KERRY: [clip from a May 2003 primary debate] I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him. And I support the fact that we did disarm him. [cf: anti-Kerry video produced by the RNC]
But Kerry's Senate speech in which he acknowledged the danger Hussein posed is a contradiction only if you assume that anything short of war meant leaving Hussein "to his own devices." But even President Bush emphasized during the debate over the resolution that "[a]pproving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable."
Kerry's statement from the Democratic primary debate is also consistent with his recent statements. As The New York Times noted on September 8, Kerry's statement of support for the war in the primary debate came in May 2003, "before it became clear that no stockpiles of banned weapons would be found so far and that the United States would face a prolonged insurgency." Also, Cameron edited the clip of Kerry to make his support for Bush sound stronger. Kerry's sentence actually began, "I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity, but I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein."
Cameron concluded his segment with another clip of Kerry saying that the United States is safer with Hussein in prison, again using quotations appearing in Bush campaign materials:
CAMERON: And this was Kerry after Saddam was captured.
KERRY: [clip from a December 16, 2003, speech in Iowa] Those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president of the United States. [cf: Bush's September 20 speech]
But as Kerry explained in his September 20 speech, he believes America is less secure due to the "chaos" that currently prevails in Iraq. He said: "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure." In December 2003, however, the scale and intensity of the insurgency was not yet evident. Asked to reconcile Kerry's statement in December with his recent statements on the September 21 edition of FOX News Channel's The Big Story with John Gibson, Kerry foreign policy advisor Jamie Rubin explained: "The point that John Kerry made during the primary was that when Saddam Hussein was hiding in the hole and directing the resistance and then was captured, that [former Vermont Governor] Howard Dean didn't say that we were better off. Of course we were better off once Saddam Hussein was captured."
At the end of Special Report, the "FOX All-Star Panel" followed Cameron's lead by continuing to echo the GOP flip-flop charge. Washington Post "K Street Confidential" reporter and FOX News Channel contributor Jeffrey H. Birnbaum said of Kerry, "he's contradicted himself." Yet the statements Birnbaum cited are not contradictory:
HUME: The president is now accusing Kerry of taking the position that Saddam should have stayed in place and we'd be better off. Is that a fair statement about what Kerry has said?
BIRNBAUM: He wouldn't have gone to war is what he said.
But he has said Iraq is better off without Saddam.
So he's contradicted himself.