John Kerry to Chris Hayes: "We're not going to war!"

The former antiwar hero defends the Syrian opposition but insists a strike isn't meant to help them topple Assad


Joan Walsh
September 6, 2013 4:03AM (UTC)

On the eve of the disastrous midterm elections, President Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs derided what he called “the professional left.” On the eve of what could be an even more crucial congressional vote on a resolution authorizing military force in Syria, the administration is assiduously courting it.

Thursday night Secretary of State John Kerry took his case for intervention to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who has declared his opposition to such a move. Kerry put his personal credibility as an antiwar Vietnam veteran entirely and passionately on the line, sometimes almost shouting in a smallish State Department office.

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“I feel confident that what I am doing is informed by my own lessons of war and informed by my opposition to war, but informed also by my years of supporting certain military actions when they're important to the security of our nation,” Kerry told Hayes. “Chris, you know, I’ve thought a lot about this. I know the lessons of war. I don't believe this is taking America to war.”

At the same time, Kerry seemed to deny that he’d voted, albeit reluctantly, to authorize military action by George W. Bush in Iraq in 2002. “When I was a senator, [I] opposed the president's decision to go into Iraq,” he told Hayes. “But we know full well how that evidence was used to persuade all of us that authority ought to be given.” If you parse that closely, you can perhaps see that he’s saying he “opposed” the decision but was “persuaded” by misleading “evidence” to vote for it, but that’s a rather tortured argument by a man who is staking his credibility on his candor and integrity.

Kerry scoffed at the criticism of Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration veterans. “They’re so discredited by their own judgment it’s hard to see today that they have a judgment that’s relevant to this,” he said.

Although Kerry insisted he was not taking a side in Syria’s civil war, he told Hayes the U.S. is supporing a “moderate opposition” that doesn’t include “ about 11 really bad opposition groups -- so-called opposition." That “moderate opposition,” Kerry said, is being “vetted by “our friends:” “the Turks, the Jordanians, the Qataris, the Saudis, the Emiratis, a lot of people are involved in that process.

Kerry seemed slightly offended when Hayes depicted Sen. Ed Markey, who took Kerry’s Massachusetts Senate seat and merely voted “present” on the pro-intervention resolution in the Senate, as being insufficiently persuaded by the case Kerry made in Congress.

“That’s not what Ed told me,” the secretary of state huffily insisted. He said Markey hadn’t had time to read the intelligence reports. I’m not sure Markey is going to enjoy the notion that he was not entirely prepared for this momentous vote, but that’s the way things are likely to roll for Democrats as this goes forward.

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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Chemical Weapons Chris Hayes Iraq War John Kerry Secretary Of State John Kerry Syria Video




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