It is that awkward introduction of himself, in the summer of 2004, at the rostrum of the Democratic National Convention — as the “Swift Boaters” arrived on his own home field of Boston to dispute his credentials as a war hero — that remains one of the lasting memories of John Kerry’s failed campaign for president.
”I’m John Kerry,” he said with a salute at that convention, “and I’m reporting for duty.”
Some of the other words voiced by that Silver- and Bronze Star-decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who piloted a Swift Boat up the most dangerous rivers and returned home to protest the war also bear remembering today, as the former senator from Massachusetts and now secretary of state makes a “full Ginsburg” case (a sweep of the Sunday morning news shows) for the Obama administration’s military strike against Syria.
“Now I know that there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities, and I do, because some issues just aren’t all that simple,” Kerry said in 2004, after initially supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and later opposing the continuing war. As he makes the case for retaliation of Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its own people, he insists the evidence of that weaponry’s use is both indisputable and compelling for action. When he was running for president, Kerry said: “Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn’t make it so. ” Today, the administration says WMDs have been deployed in Damascus.
“If we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas… his own people with impunity and then the United States does nothing about it, there will be no end to the testing of our resolve,” Kerry said in a public appearance on Friday, the day before President Barack Obama announced that he has decided to use military force against Syria yet will seek congressional approval for it first.
This morning, it was Kerry reporting for duty on five televised fronts.
Why people, are asking today, is the president seeking permission
“The president of the United States has made his decision,” Kerry said this morning on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” Kerry did not oppose going into Syria, he said. The issue was, “should the president of the United States take action” to deter Assad’s use of these weapons. “There was no decision not to do that, and the president has the right to do that… The president then made the decision that he thought we would be stronger, and the United States would be stronger and act with greater moral strength” if it had a united decision. “He made his decision. Now it’s up to the Congress of the United States to join him.”
With the deployment of chemical weapons, Kerry said today, Assad has joined a list of people that includes Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein.
As Kerry was asked how sure the U.S. is about its case for military action, the “slam-dunk” metaphor of President George W. Bush’s WMD intelligence and decision to topple Hussein was invoked by Meet the Press’s David Gregory.
“The word slam-dunk should be retired from American national security interests,” Kerry said today on Meet the Press. Yet the evidence is replete, he said.
Should Congress fail to agree, Kerry was asked, will Obama proceed?
“The president has the authority to act,” he said, avoiding a direct answer. “But the Congress will do what’s right here.”
As congressional leaders schedule debate this week, promising votes by no later than next week, the opposition is coming from Republican quarters. “I think it’s a mistake to get involved in a civil war,” Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican with eyes on the 2016 presidential contest, said following Kerry on Meet the Press. “You asked John Kerry if he will abide by the decision of Congress,” Paul said, “and he waffled on that.”
The Senate, Paul predicted, will “rubber stamp” Obama’s decision. “It will be closer in the House,” he said.
There was another speaker at that 2004 convention in Boston — the one who stole the show.
Obama, then a junior senator from Illinois who had opposed the invasion of Iraq before his election and ability to vote on it, spoke of political unity in a divided nation in his keynote address at the Democratic convention that nominated Kerry for the presidency. Now, after a term and almost a year of political battles of his own with Republicans in Congress, the president is again seeking the unity he spoke of as a senator in his pursuit of congressional authority to strike Syria.
“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America,” Obama said then. “There is a United States of America.”