Iraq was a mistake in reason, says Sen. Kennedy

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In an interview scheduled to air on Hardball, Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, Sen. Edward Kennedy talked to MSNBC's Chris Matthews about the end of the search for WMD in Iraq, President Bush's cabinet nominations, as well as the Democrats' plan post-inauguration.

An excerpt of the interview follows:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, ANCHOR, “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS”: You were tough today on the issue of Iraq, as you have been before. Today, it is clear that there no weapons of mass destruction. The report has come in. It is in the papers this morning in Washington.  That was the reason for our war with Iraq, according to the U.S. Congress.

If the Congress that you know so well, had known there were no WMD before we went in, would we have gone in?


MATTHEWS:  Would they have voted to go in?

KENNEDY:  No. There were two justifications. 

One, there was an imminent security threat to the United States.  And secondly, that they had nuclear weapons besides other weapons of mass destruction.  Every military witness that we had, that appeared before the Armed Services Committee, predicted what was going to happen.  And I think they made a credible case.  I voted 'no.'

But every civilian leader made the case to go into Iraqrather than pursue Osama bin Laden.  Osama bin Laden is still loose today. Al Qaeda is still the threat to the United States’ security. 

This is just turned into a quagmire.  This is George Bush’s Vietnam.  This is a quagmire... the idea that you are going to have a military solution to a political problem.

MATTHEWS:  You portrayed it as kind of a wrong-way car kind of a thing, here, where the president was chasing bin Laden, and all of a sudden he goes heading down to Iraq.  Why did they do it?  If there were no weapons of mass destruction—why?  You said they falsely hyped the threat from Iraq.  Why did they do it?

KENNEDY:  There was no question that this was, they thought, sort of an option to be able to knock off a country—  virtually, easily— and bring a new kind of view in terms of the Middle East.  Most of those that supported this, that are part of this administration, wrote this out very, very clearly in memoranda over the previous two to three years.

MATTHEWS:  Right, well, why...

KENNEDY:  And I think it was a mistake in reason, a mistake in rationale.  They thought that this was going to be a cakewalk.  Remember when they said, "Look, this is going to be a cakewalk.  They’ll welcome us with open arms. We expect to have the military out in six weeks."? 


KENNEDY:  All of that was wrong.  And the reason the same people are making today—we don’t have any kind of accountability.  We’re looking now at that submariner that ran his submarine into that mountain underneath the sea, that area wasn’t even charted.  And the talking about cashiering him, when we haven’t held one person accountable for the mistakes that we’ve got in Iraq, not one person.

I think the American people want to know why.

On John Kerry

MATTHEWS: Now, listening to you today, on two issues— the war and the prospects of the American people— health and jobs.  You sound like an old-time serious Democrat.  How come you don’t hear that from Kerry this year?  There were no guts in the campaign, like you have.  I mean, gutsy as not in good or bad, but guts, human visceral quality to your argument.  Do the Democrats have to talk like that again?

KENNEDY:  I’ve known John Kerry and I’ve met him when he just came back from Vietnam and he demonstrated extraordinary physical courage under battle on that part.  And I thought he ran a strong campaign.

What I was outlying today...

MATTHEWS:  He wasn’t as clear on the war like you are.

KENNEDY:  Well, we had a meeting in which he has explained. 

But what I’m talking about is that we are faced with globalization today.  We are faced with globalization.  If the Republicans want to talk about values, we’ll talk about values.  I believe that they use values in a way that is negative and distortion in a way to exploit fears. 

Democrats talk about real values as hope and opportunity and about respect.  Those are our values.  We glad to debate them on the values.  And secondly, I believe that we are facing globalization and we have to equip every citizen, every American citizen, so they can deal with globalization, individually.  And we as a country have to be with it. 

When we saw Sputnik, in 1957, and we went ahead and said, "Look, we need to have a crash program for math and science." We have doubled the education budget.  We increased our scientists and research by over $100,000 for four consecutive years.  We can do it.  And we shouldn’t be left behind.

We are going to compete with the outsourcing of low-wage jobs, for jobs that are a threat to families in this country, and for the Wal-Martization of our industrial base. That is not the vision I see for America.  And I think the Democrats have to embrace this opportunity and they can win with it.

MATTHEWS:  Could you have won in Ohio with this argument? 

KENNEDY:  I believe in it.

MATTHEWS:  You are focusing on the economy, and yet the Republicans hit values.  They hit abortion, gay marriage. And the Democrats get thrown on the defensive.

KENNEDY:  We’re not on the defensive.  What is the issue in terms of values when they want— when we see men and women working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year and they can’t provide for their families, or to educate, or to clothe and feed them.  That is a value. 

What about Iraq?  And the distortion and misrepresentation about telling the truth in Iraq?  That is certainly a value.  What about telling the truth in terms of Social Security, about where we are on that?  That is certainly a value, as well.

We will welcome the opportunity to debate him.  We use values for hope and opportunity and respect.  They use it in a negative way.

On the cabinet nominations

MATTHEWS:  The Alberto Gonzales nomination, what did you think of his testimony last week before your committee. 

KENNEDY:  I was unimpressed.  I don’t think we got a lot of answers on it.  I thought the answers he gave were rather bland.  We’re talking about torture, we’re talking about the memoranda that was written by what they call OLC, which is the Justice Department and to interpret the Geneva Conventions.  And effectively they gave a green light to torture.  And that was the Bybee amendment.  It was asked for by Gonzales, it was directed to Gonzales and distributed by Gonzales.  He couldn’t remember who asked for it.  He doesn’t remember getting it.  He doesn’t remember whatever happened to it. 

We’ve had follow up questions.  I think a president is entitled to his advisers.  I’m going to strongly support Margaret Spellings who is going to be the commissioner on education, head the Education Department.  I differ with her on a number of different kind of things— but she is enormously competent.  She doesn’t always say no.  And she certainly has the president’s ear and is highly regarded and respected. 

But we’re going to have to get addition kinds of answers.  I’m reserving judgment until we...       

MATTHEWS: The world saw those pictures at Abu Ghraib and they don’t like us for it, especially the Arab world, the Islamic world, they were humiliated.  Those memos approved the humiliation, they approved cruelty.  Do you think there’s a connection between what came out of that office of legal counsel and the behavior at Abu Ghraib? 

KENNEDY: Well, there is no question. It isn’t a question of speculation.  The authoritative memo, which is the Bybee amendment sections of it were printed in the working group recommendations and guidance to the armed forces.  And they were directly testified to by those people that have been over in Abu Ghraib as being the guidance for them.  This isn’t a question of were they, they have actually been printed.  We brought that up to demonstrate that.

And now the answer is that, "Well, the president doesn’t believe in torture, I don’t either." But it is an entirely different kind of criteria that was drawn up by this administration.  We’re talking about torture. 

Final point that I didn’t get to ask, the question is, why did he recommend that the person that authored this memoranda go to the circuit courts?  After he wrote the memoranda, he was promoted then to the circuit courts.  And the judiciary never had that memoranda.  We asked for different memoranda and information with Mr. Bybee, we never got it.  That’s when we asked that people wonder why is the Judiciary Committee asking for information? 

On the president after inauguration

MATTHEWS: Any hopes for the president at inauguration time, anything you’d like him to do?

KENNEDY: Well, yes.  I think we have about a year where we might be able to find some way of working together before the midterm elections.  He obviously is not going to run again and therefore I think there is sort of a different atmosphere and a different climate.  There is a sense of goodwill. 

I think we want to try and sort of see if there is some real possibilities of getting some things going during this period of time.  It will obviously change as we get closer to the midterm election.  This is the time to try and make some progress on health, on education, to make sure that our citizens are equipped to deal with the problems of the country.