For as much as had been written and said about the remarkable legacy of the late Sen. Teddy Kennedy following his death last month, his willingness to take strong and principled stands against the leadership of his own party was among his most enduring contributions.
By so doing, he exhibited a grounded, independent morality that is the truest mark of a great human being and leader.
In early October 2002, the handwriting was on the wall that Democratic leadership would cave to President Bush’s bellicose march to a unilateral, unprovoked invasion of Iraq. Bush was capitalizing on his popularity in the first year following the attacks of 9/11 to demand the passage of a “war powers resolution” in Congress that he would then use to clear the path for the invasion the following spring.
Apart from Al Gore, who had no actual standing in the government or his party after having the presidency stolen from him in 2000, there was only one high-profile Democrat in the entire nation that insisted his fellow Democrats not give in to Bush. That was Sen. Teddy Kennedy.
On Sept. 27, 2002, Kennedy delivered a major speech to the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., a speech that was blacked out of the major media, including the Washington Post. It was entitled, “Eliminating the Threat: the Right Course of Action for Disarming Iraq, Combating Terrorism, Protecting the Homeland, and Stabilizing the Middle East.”
So unsettled was I about the media blackout of this speech that I took the extraordinary move of reprinting it in its entirety in my newspaper, the Northern Virginia-based Falls Church News-Press, in its Oct. 3, 2002 edition. With the benefit of nine years of hindsight, Sen. Kennedy was right on target in his speech.
In the same edition of my newspaper, I devoted my own column, entitled “Bush’s Cronies Crafted Iraq War Policy Prior to the Election,” to a London Sunday Herald article citing a September 2000 memo proving the Bush team’s intention to unilaterally invade Iraq if elected later that year. In other words, the plans had nothing to do with 9/11 or with infamously non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.”
But that revelation, and Kennedy’s eloquent speech, did not stop the Democratic leadership from pandering to Bush and giving him the votes needed to pass the “war powers resolution” only days later. In my column on Oct. 17, 2002, entitled “Compromised Dems Squirm at Iraq Resolution Signing Party,” I noted that “everyone in that hall (for the signing ceremony) yesterday knew full well that many of the Democrats there, including Senators Diane Feinstein and Hillary Clinton, were driven to their decisions more by electoral concerns than the merits of the resolution.”
“Every Democrat with presidential aspirations voted with Bush,” I noted. “It doesn’t cut much of a profile of courage for such aspirants.”
This only underscored the true courage, however, of Sen. Kennedy’s lonesome and noble stand.
“I come here today to express my view that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until other reasonable alternatives are exhausted,” Kennedy began. Aiming directly as his Democratic colleagues’ scheming to gain political leverage by going along with Bush, Kennedy boomed that leaders must “resist any temptation to convert patriotism into politics.”
“It is possible to love America while concluding that it is not now wise to go to war,” he intoned. “The standard that should guide us is especially clear when lives are on the line: We must ask what is right for country and not party.”
He went on at length, saying “the Administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary. Nor has the Administration laid out the cost in blood and treasure of this operation…Resorting to war is not America’s only or best course at this juncture. There are realistic alternatives.”
He concluded, “In 2002, we too can and must be both resolute and measured. In that way, the United States prevailed without war in the greatest confrontations of the Cold War. Now, on Iraq, let us build international support, try the United Nations, and pursue disarmament before we turn to armed conflict.”