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Obama Would Have Voted For the Iraq War

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Now I know many people have an aversion to the “dove” and “hawk” labeling, but it’s the most descriptive in drawing contrasts. The great respect I have for the Kennedy family, not to mention the years of research I’ve done on John F. Kennedy, also includes a harsh dose of reality on who John F. Kennedy was and the type of politician and leader he was as well. Some people have a romantic notion about J.F.K. that precludes them from venturing into the stark reality that he was ruthless, could cut people off on evidence that they’d become a liability (see Frank Sinatra), but also that many of his decisions depended on what would be good for him. Take the situation that had J.F.K. finally helping Dr. Martin Luther King as one example. His relationship with the press was complicated too, to which David Halberstam could personally attest if he were still alive. Kennedy appealed to the New York Times to get Halberstam thrown out of Vietnam because of the critical reporting he was doing at the time. Kennedy hardly had a sweetness and light relationship, though the press loved him enough to keep his secrets, something that would never happen today, though it’s clear that the treatment of Obama by the press compared to Clinton certainly draws a distinction on protection, not unlike Kennedy. On the Rezko – Barack Obama relationship, Obama should be in the spotlight, yet it was one photo of Clinton that got the press. You can’t buy that kind of political love, which draws out the “perfect storm of Clinton hate,” as Big Tent Democrat describes today, which I’ve been pointing out for months, including on the media’s race baiting. But for Obama, it’s Rezko that should be in the spotlight.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your hometown paper, The Chicago Tribune, endorsed John McCain today. And had some kind words for you as well. But they went on to talk about your relationship with the real estate developer now indicted Tony Rezko. And they wrote this in their editorial. “Obama’s assertion in network tv interviews last week that nobody had indications Rezko was engaging in wrongdoing strains credulity. Tribune stories linked Rezko to questionable fund-raising for Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2004. More than a year before the adjacent home and property purchases by the Obamas and the Rezkos. One more time, senator, you need to divulge all there is to know about that relationship.” … (source: ABC’s “This Week” – rough transcript)

John F. Kennedy didn’t want to talk about his relationship with the mob either.

Kennedy family endorsements of Obama are theirs to give, as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has given his to Clinton, and I won’t get into the personal nature of it, but I will say that the comparisons to J.F.K. only cover a very small bit of terrain. Like John F. Kennedy, there can be no doubt that Barack Obama’s rhetorical talents are inspiring and uplifting. But on experience, Obama doesn’t measure up by half, if you only take in Kennedy’s travels alone. The war hero aspect is another, especially Kennedy’s deep skepticism about top military leaders at the time, which he witnessed first hand. Obama’s military knowledge is miniscule in comparison. But there is one similarity that should give anyone pause moving forward. John F. Kennedy was a hawk through and through.

Now, as I’ve said before, I don’t think J.F.K. would have opted for preemptive war on Iraq, though he was clearly not squeamish about regime change. It just didn’t have enough in it for the U.S. In fact, I don’t think Clinton, Obama or Edwards or any other Democrat would
have chosen preemptive war with Iraq either. However, what would J.F.K. have done as a senator presented with the AUMF on Iraq is another question entirely. This really gets to why I think giving Obama any credit beyond his 2002 speech is not only silly, but ignores Obama’s record and the facts.

With Obama’s Iraq votes mimicking Senator Clinton’s one for one, minus one, General Casey for Chief of the Army, Obama says he would have voted no on the war if he’d been a senator. But is his 2002 speech evidence enough that would have been the case? If we take the J.F.K. analogy forward, I can tell you unequivocally, as I’ve said before, that if Kennedy had been in the Senate there is no way he would have voted against the force resolution on Iraq. His dad would have warned him that it would be political suicide for someone wanting to run for president. If you want to talk about the Kennedy who would have voted against the war resolution that would have been Bobby.

After studying John F. Kennedy for decades, this is an easy conclusion. Because first and foremost, John F. Kennedy was a brilliant, calculating politician. In 2002, if you remember the climate, the pressure on Democrats was intense. After 9/11, they all caved to the possibility of being accused of the “soft” label. This climate would not have gone unnoticed by J.F.K., and he would have made his calculations accordingly. He likely would have joined them, if only on looking forward to running for president.

I’ll let Steve Clemons take it from here:

But I will say that JFK, as significant a leader as he was, was a hard core Cold War hawk. He approved the invasion of other nations and approved of regime change as a tool of American foreign policy. While in the end, his intellect and the assembled high quality intellectuals he had around him kept the world from falling into a nuclear catastrophe with the Soviet Union, it was Kennedy’s youthfulness and his combination of hawkishness and Wilsonian rhetoric that helped precipitate a number of crises.

Messing with the memory of any icon like JFK has its dangers — but while Caroline Kennedy may not want to feature these parts of her father’s legacy in her endorsement of Obama, I feel I must note them. Obama is a compelling candidate who must know that gravity operates even in the White House.

Mysticism and gut will not assure our allies, deter our foes, restore confidence among our citizens, or make America regain its unique national and international character again.

In the one-woman political show I did on J.F.K. out of Los Angeles in 2005, I painted a full portrait of Kennedy, good, bad and brilliant, as well as his personal failings. It’s important to do that today as well.

There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Barack Obama’s signature rallying issue, making one speech about the Iraq war, would have manifest in a vote against the AUMF. In fact, looking at Obama’s calculations throughout his career, his “present” votes, ducking the Kyl-Lieberman vote, as well as all his votes on Iraq that put him standing with Hillary Clinton, not to mention his rhetoric over his Senate years, I’d say any notion that he’d have been an anti Iraq war leader in the Senate is pure fantasy. His bellicose language on invading Pakistan on “actionable intelligence,” for which Joseph Wilson took Mr. Obama to task in our interview recently, is another.

“It was reinforced today by Musharraf’s comment that any U.S. bombing of Pakistan would be considered a hostile act. That is precisely how reckless it is to be sitting there saying, yeah, if we have actionable intelligence we’ll just go ahead and bomb a sovereign country. The last thing we need to do is to further exacerbate anti-American opinion in a country that has a significant fundamentalist population and has nuclear weapons. So I think that is really born out by what Musharraf said yesterday or today. How delicate international diplomacy is today and how important it is to measure your statements and not to act in a way that can be construed as reckless.” – Former ambassador Joseph Wilson

Wilson had this to say about Obama on Iraq:

“Well, I think the fact that’s dominated the narrative is an indication of how little people really understand the dynamics of the debate as it was going on at the time. And the people making a lot of hay over this weren’t there. I was there. I was fighting the fight. I looked to the left of me. I looked to the right of me. I didn’t see Barack Obama anywhere. I was out there and there is nobody who can deny that.”

John F. Kennedy wouldn’t have voted against the force resolution either. He was a Cold War hawk at heart. He matched the times in which he lived. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, would also have warned him that doing anything else would have gotten him labeled as “soft” and hurt his bid to be president.

We’ll never know for sure, but every single instance in Barack Obama’s career has him matching the times, calculating his stands, especially when votes would leave him or a colleague vulnerable. There is absolutely no evidence he wouldn’t have done the same in the Senate on Iraq.

Looking only rhetoric deep at any politician is dangerous. Romanticizing them is too. When looking at Mr. Obama’s record, given his lack of experience, especially when compared to Kennedy who was also an unabashed Cold War hawk, which met the times, it should give everyone pause when drawing comparisons. Because if Obama had met the times in 2002 as a senator, there’s no reason, given his record, to believe he’d voted differently from Clinton, Edwards, Kerry and even Joe Biden. Obama would have opted for calculation. John F. Kennedy would have too.


TM NOTE: The reason I can write this unbiased, cold assessment of John F. Kennedy is because his memory stands tall through facts and truth. He remains someone who has had an enormous effect on my life in only positive ways, mainly because I saw him through the eyes of my much older brother and sister, which has stayed with me throughout my life. What his father handed him in legacy, competitive nature and in connections is real. The tendency not to reveal the whole truth of the man serves no one, especially not J.F.K. As I did in my one woman show on him and as I’ve done throughout my writing life, I offer the fullness of the man, as I did in posts like “Days After Dallas” and “He Couldn’t Get Elected Today,” plus many more. Worshiping Kennedy serves no one. The truth renders him all the more fascinating.

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