Today’s Washington Post contains an article by Bob Woodward outlining his attempts to interview John Kerry about his stance on Iraq and how he would have approached the issue as President – had he been there instead of President Bush.
Some background from Woodward:
In August, I was talking with Kerry’s scheduler about possible dates. On Sept. 1, Kerry began his intense criticism of Bush’s decisions in the Iraq war, saying “I would’ve done almost everything differently.” A few days later, I provided the Kerry campaign with a list of 22 possible questions based entirely on Bush’s actions leading up to the war and how Kerry might have responded in the same situations. The senator and his campaign have since decided not to do the interview, though his advisers say Kerry would have strong and compelling answers.
Because the interview did not occur, it is not possible to do the side-by-side comparison of Bush’s record and Kerry’s answers that I had envisioned. But it seems to me that the questions themselves offer a useful framework for thinking about the role of a president who must decide whether to go to war.
Beyond the appearance of Senator Kerry ducking this interview – I found Woodward’s questions to be difficult and hard-hitting. Here’s a sample of the first few questions:
1. On Nov. 21, 2001, just 72 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush took Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld aside and said he wanted to look at the Iraq war plans. Bush directed Rumsfeld not to talk to anyone else, including the National Security Council members and the CIA director.
Questions: If a President Kerry wanted to look at war plans pertaining to a particular country or threat, how would he go about it? Who would be included? What would the general war-planning process be in a Kerry administration? Was it reasonable to look at Iraq at that time?
2. The CIA was asked in late 2001 to do a “lessons learned” study of past covert operations in Iraq and concluded that the CIA alone could not overthrow Saddam Hussein and that a military operation would be required. The CIA soon became an advocate for military action.
Questions: How can such advocacy be avoided? The CIA argued that a two-track policy — negotiations at the U.N. and covert action — made their sources inside Iraq believe the United States was not serious about overthrowing Saddam. Can that be avoided? How can diplomacy and covert action be balanced?
3. In January 2002 President Bush gave his famous “axis of evil” speech singling out Iraq, Iran and North Korea as threats.
Questions: Was this speech too undiplomatic? How would a President Kerry frame the issues and relations with Iran and North Korea? Do you consider these two countries part of an axis of evil now?
4. On Feb. 16, 2002, the president signed a secret intelligence order directing the CIA to begin covert action to support a military operation to overthrow Saddam, ultimately allocating some $200 million a year. Bush later acknowledged to me that even six months later, in August, the administration had not developed a diplomatic strategy to deal with Iraq.
Questions: How should military planning, CIA activities and diplomacy (and economic sanctions and the bully pulpit) fit together to form a policy?
Woodward is not only the consummate insider – he’s clearly a tough interviewer. I’d love to read the Senator’s answers to these questions.. but I guess he’s too afraid to answer them.