With few of the misgivings he cited before voting against the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Kerry voted in October 2002 to authorize use of force against Iraq, agreeing in effect with President Bush that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that posed an "unacceptable threat" to the world.
In a speech outlining his reasons, Kerry made no reference to his 1991 vote against war with Iraq but noted that "September 11 changed a lot," requiring "a different response, different thinking and different approaches that we have applied in the past."
Although he would not support war for "regime change" alone, "the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real" and a justification for use of force, he said.
Democrats, chastened by unfavorable reaction to their 1991 votes against the Persian Gulf War, split 29 to 21 in favor of the second Iraq war, with Kerry once again siding with a majority of them. The Senate vote authorizing use of force against Iraq was thus as lopsided as the earlier Iraq war vote had been close: 77 to 23.
Even though the outcome of the vote was a foregone conclusion, Kerry consulted widely with both Republican and Democratic colleagues, especially fellow members of the Foreign Relations Committee, before deciding, according to a Republican colleague and friend. "He was torn, legitimately torn, as many of us were," the senator said. "He was torn about committing America to war: Do we know what we're doing, is this what we should be doing?" Also, the senator said, "He didn't want to be wrong again."
His speech reflected none of this ambivalence, but Kerry tried to qualify his support for war, including pegging his support to what he described as administration indications that war was a "last option" and that the United States intended to "act in concert with allies around the globe."
"Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this," he said. "I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the president has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances."
But the resolution did not contain such limitations, and the war began five months later, with limited allied support.