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An International Law Hating Iraq War Supporter: The Case Against Secretary of State John Kerry

The selection of John Kerry as the next secretary of state sends the wrong signal to America’s allies and adversaries alike.
 
 
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John Kerry campaigning for president in 2004.
Photo Credit: Thomas True/Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

President Obama’s selection of John Kerry as the next secretary of state sends the wrong signal to America’s allies and adversaries alike. Kerry’s record in the United States Senate, where he currently chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has included spurious attacks on the International Court of Justice, unqualified defense of Israeli occupation policies and human rights violations, and support for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, thereby raising serious questions about his commitment to international law and treaty obligations. Furthermore, his false claims about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and his repeated denials of well-documented human rights abuses by allied governments raise serious questions about his credibility.

In the 1980s, during the early part of his Senate career, Kerry was considered one of the more progressive members of the U.S. Senate on foreign policy. His record included challenging the Reagan administration’s policies on Central America, providing strong leadership during the Iran-Contra investigation, opposing U.S. support for the Marcos regime in the Philippines and other allied dictatorships, and supporting the nuclear freeze, among other positions supporting peace and human rights.

More recently, however, Kerry became a prominent supporter of various neoconservative initiatives, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq, undermining the authority of the United Nations, and supporting Israeli militarism and expansionism.

Opposition to International Law – Iraq War

Kerry was an outspoken supporter of the Bush Doctrine, which declares that the United States has the right to unilaterally invade foreign countries, topple their governments, and occupy them indefinitely if they are deemed to pose even a hypothetical threat against the United States. In 2002, he voted against  an unsuccessful resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq only if the United Nations Security Council permitted such force under the UN Charter and instead voted for an alternative  Republican resolution, which authorized President Bush to invade that oil-rich country unilaterally in violation of the UN Charter.

The October 2002 war resolution backed by Kerry was not like the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution regarding Vietnam, where there was no time for reflection and debate. Kerry had been  briefed by the chief UN weapons inspector and by prominent scholars of the region, who informed him of the likely absence of any of the alleged “weapons of mass destruction” and the likely consequences of a U.S. invasion, but he voted to authorize the invasion anyway. It was not a “mistake” or a momentary lapse of judgment. It demonstrated Kerry’s dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law and international treaties that prohibit aggressive war.

Kerry and his supporters claim he does not really reject international law. They note that, in voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Kerry  stated at that time that he expected President Bush “to work with the United Nations Security Council and our allies . . . if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.” He then promised that if President Bush failed to do so, “I will be the first to speak out.”

However, Senator Kerry broke that promise. When President Bush abandoned his efforts to gain United Nations Security Council authorization for the war in late February 2003 and pressed forward with plans for the invasion without a credible international coalition, Kerry remained silent. Indeed, when President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a  Senate resolution declaring that the invasion was “lawful and fully authorized by the Congress” and that he “commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President . . . in the conflict with Iraq.”

Unlike the hawkish senator from Massachusetts, most Democrats in Congress voted against authorizing the invasion. For example, Senator Robert Byrd introduced a resolution in the fall of 2002 clarifying that authorizing an invasion of Iraq would not diminish Congress’ Constitutional authority to declare war and that no additional authority not directly related to a clear threat of imminent, sudden, and direct attack on the United States could be granted to the president unless Congress authorized it. Senator Kerry voted against it,  saying “Every nation has the right to act preemptively if it faces an imminent and grave threat.”

 
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