Wash. Times's McCaslin smeared Kerry with misquote of 1997 statement on Iraq

Washington Times columnist John McCaslin falsely claimed in his September 24 “Inside the Beltway” column that, while appearing on a 1997 edition of CNN's Crossfire, Senator John Kerry advocated a unilateral and preemptive attack on Iraq. McCaslin claimed that Kerry said: “We know we can't count on the French. We know we can't count on the Russians. ... We know that Iraq is a danger to the United States, and we reserve the right to take pre-emptive action whenever we feel it's in our national interest.”

The Drudge Report posted a link to McCaslin's false Washington Times report: “Kerry Argued Case For Unilateral Preemptive Action In Iraq On CNN's CROSSFIRE In 1997...”

McCaslin's column claimed that “no 'Crossfire' transcripts from 1997 are available,” but Kerry's opponent on the debate show, New York Republican congressman Peter King, “produced a tape of the show” revealing the quotation. McCaslin's claim that Crossfire transcripts from 1997 aren't available, though, does not hold up to the most basic test. Crossfire transcripts are available on Nexis -- a basic research tool -- dating back to 1990. McCaslin has worked as a news director of three radio stations, correspondent for United Press International and NBC Radio and is in his 20th year with The Washington Times, where he has served as assistant national editor, deputy metropolitan editor, and metro editor. And he failed to check the Nexis database?

Not only is that Crossfire transcript available, but it reveals that McCaslin flatly misquoted Kerry. Kerry expressed frustration with French, Russian, and Chinese policies, but stood firm on a multilateral effort: “I don't think anybody can deny that we would have liked it to have threatened force and we would have liked it to carry the term serious consequences will flow. On the other hand, the coalition is together.” Furthermore, he did not advocate taking “pre-emptive action whenever we feel it's in our national interest.” Rather, Kerry said that the United States “will reserve the right to act in its best interests” when there is a “finding of material breach.”

From the November 12, 1997, edition of CNN's Crossfire:

JOHN SUNUNU, CROSSFIRE: Senator Kerry, in fact, in spite of the administration claiming it has restored unanimity, that has not occurred. All the strength of this resolution had to be pulled out of it get any votes at all other than our own. Isn't this exercise actually counterproductive in sending a signal to Iraq that the coalition still remains frayed?

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D), MASSACHUSETTS, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, John, you're correct that this resolution is less than we would have liked. I don't think anybody can deny that we would have liked it to have threatened force and we would have liked it to carry the term serious consequences will flow. On the other hand, the coalition is together. I mean, the fact is there is a unanimous statement by the security council and the United Nations that there has to be immediate, unrestricted, unconditional access to the sites. That's very strong language. And it also references the underlying resolution on which the use of force is based. So clearly the allies may not like it, and I think that's our great concern -- where's the backbone of Russia, where's the backbone of France, where are they in expressing their condemnation of such clearly illegal activity -- but in a sense, they're now climbing into a box and they will have enormous difficulty not following up on this if there is not compliance by Iraq.

SUNUNU: But senator, the whole process of presenting this through the security council had each of those allies you have mentioned giving a warning in fact to the U.S.. Let's take a look at what each one of 'em had to say. First of all, France said, “The resolution doesn't encourage nor does it justify any escalation.” Russia said, “Actions involving force or threatening the use of force could wipe out all of our achievements.” And China said, in that very same debate, "We are opposed to the use of force or the threat of force or any actions that might further exasperate tensions. This whole process gave our allies an opportunity not only not to follow America's leadership, not only not to allow us to lead, but to tell us we'd better not do what the president is now saying he might do.

KERRY: Well, John, there's absolutely no statement that they have made or that they will make that will prevent the United States of America and this president or any president from acting in what they believe are the best interests of our country. And obviously it's disappointing. It was disappointing a month ago not to have the French and the Russians understanding that they shouldn't give any signals of weakening on the sanctions and I think those signals would have helped bring about this crisis because they permitted Saddam Hussein to interpret that maybe the moment was right for him to make this challenge.

SUNUNU: But isn't what he has seen is a loss of U.S. leadership and an erosion under an administration that has failed to lead?

KERRY: On the contrary. The administration is leading. The administration is making it clear that they don't believe that they even need the U.N. Security Council to sign off on a material breach because the finding of material breach was made by Mr. Butler. So furthermore, I think the United States has always reserved the right and will reserve the right to act in its best interests. And clearly it is not just our best interests, it is in the best interests of the world to make it clear to Saddam Hussein that he's not going to get away with a breach of the '91 agreement that he's got to live up to, which is allowing inspections and dismantling his weapons and allowing us to know that he has dismantled his weapons. That's the price he pays for invading Kuwait and starting a war.


SUNUNU: Senator Kerry, I think the issue that concerns a lot of us who have seen the process in the past and have been watching what has been going on now is that the previous administration, President Bush, Jim Baker worked to weave the fabric before rolling out the goods and the tough talk. This administration's got the tough talk now, but it let the fabric get unraveled and that is the problem. We have to at least understand that failure if we want to move forward correctly.

KERRY: John, again, I think you're prejudging this. I mean, the fact is that over a period of time France and Russia have indicated a monetary interest. They on their own have indicated the desire to do business. That's what's driving this. I mean, as Tom Freedman (ph) said in a great article the other day, France, Inc., wants to do business with oil and they are moving in the exact sort of opposite direction on their own from the very cause of the initial conflict, which was oil.

SUNUNU: But that's not new, Senator Kerry. You're pretending that this desire...

KERRY: Correct, but ...

SUNUNU: ...of commercial interest is new. That's always been there. They were there in 1990, they were there in '91, they were in the tough times and they stood with us.

KERRY: Correct, absolutely correct, and I believe, and they stood with us today, and I am saying to you that it is my judgment that by standing with us today and calling for the unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, you know, access, they have now taken a stand that they are duty bound to enforce, and if Saddam Hussein doesn't do that, the president, I think, has begun a process which you remember very well, John, was not done in one week, in one day, in one month. It took months to weave together the fabric to lead up to an understanding of what was at stake. I am convinced that many people have not yet even focused in full measure on what is at stake.

SUNUNU: All right ...

KERRY: This is not just a minor confrontation. This is a very significant issue about the balance of power, about the future stability of the Middle East, about all of what we have thus far invested in the prior war and what may happen in the future.