Kerry on the War

KERRY ON THE WAR….Via OxBlog, the Washington Post has an editorial today bemoaning John Kerry’s contradictory stances on a number of important issues. But here’s the nut:

The most important confusion surrounds Mr. Kerry’s position on Iraq. In 1991 he voted against the first Persian Gulf War, saying more support was needed from Americans for a war that he believed would prove costly. In 1998, when President Clinton was considering military steps against Iraq, he strenuously argued for action, with or without allies. Four years later he voted for a resolution authorizing invasion but criticized Mr. Bush for not recruiting allies. Last fall he voted against funding for Iraqi reconstruction, but argued that the United States must support the establishment of a democratic government.

As it happens, one of the things that has long bothered me about Kerry is the fact that he seems to take such deliberately calculated positions on so many issues. This is a gut reaction on my part, not something I have documentary evidence of, but he often seems to be trying just a little too hard to simply come up with a position ? any position ? that won’t piss off anyone on either side too badly.

But even having said that, I can’t help but think that the Post’s criticism of his war support is misplaced. The implication seems to be that either you support all wars or you don’t. If you support some and not others, you’re obviously inconsistent.

That doesn’t hold water. The Post is right that Kerry should spell out why he has supported or opposed various military actions, and should also explain the general principles he’s used to come up with his positions. But it’s wrong to imply that Kerry is inconsistent simply for taking different stands on different wars. Frankly, I’d be pretty unhappy with any presidential candidate who was either for or against every war in his lifetime.

UPDATE: In comments, spc67 points out that the Post is criticizing Kerry’s stance on military action against Iraq, not “all wars at all times.” Point taken.

My real issue with the Post editorial, I think, is that they don’t spend even a sentence explaining what Kerry’s rationale for his votes is. They just briefly say it is “unconvincing” and then move on. But that’s the heart of the issue, and if they’re going to criticize him for it they should discuss their misgivings in more detail.

UPDATE 2: Matt Yglesias defends Kerry here.