Democrats in a quagmire over Iraq
By PHILIP GAILEY
Published February 6, 2005
Will Democrats ever extricate themselves from the trap they so diligently fashioned for themselves on the issue of going to war in Iraq? They are no closer to a political exit strategy on Iraq than President Bush is to a military one.
More than two years after giving Bush a blank-check resolution to send American soldiers into battle against Saddam Hussein's regime, Senate Democrats are still flapping around like fish stranded on dry land. They were too sheepish to stand up to George W. Bush when it mattered - before he sounded the bugle for battle. At the time, Democrats seemed bent on showing the public that when it comes to making war, they're just as tough as Republicans. Their biggest regret seems to be that the voters didn't buy it.
Even the recent Iraqi election - the first good news to come out the war since the fall of Saddam's regime - left Democrats uncertain of how to respond. On the same day Iraqis were going to the polls, Ted Kennedy, who opposed the war from the start, was calling on the president to immediately begin withdrawing American forces - a bad idea. And John Kerry, who voted for the war and then became incoherent on the subject during his unsuccessful presidential campaign, told NBC's Tim Russert: "No one in the United States should try to overhype this election . . . It's hard to say something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't and doesn't vote."
Come on, senator, you can do better than that grudging comment.
Democrats seem to know exactly where they stand on the privatization of Social Security, but when it comes to war and peace, they slip and slide all over the marble floors of the Congress. After the war turned messy, they finally began asking the questions they should have asked before giving Bush his Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
Let's roll the tape back to the fall of 2002, when Congress was debating a resolution authorizing Bush to invade a country that posed no immediate threat to U.S. security. The thinking at the time was that Democrats needed to get the war issue out of the way to prepare for the next election.
In the House, Richard Gephardt, the Democratic leader and presidential aspirant, emerged as Bush's chief war lobbyist on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, presidential hopefuls such as John Kerry and John Edwards echoed the administration's position that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and had to be disarmed, by force if necessary. Bob Graham, Ted Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd made a powerful case against going to war, but they were unable to even persuade their Senate leader, Tom Daschle.
Oh, I forgot. Democrats did urge the president to seek United Nations approval or to at least give U.N. inspectors more time to frisk Saddam's regime for weapons of mass destruction. They did offer alternative resolutions that tweaked the language Bush insisted on. And they got Bush's promise that war would be a last resort.
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware explained at the time why he was likely to vote for an "imperfect" war resolution. "I just can't fathom the president going it alone," he said. "If I'm wrong, I've made a tragic mistake."
When it became clear the war was not going to be a cakewalk, prowar Democrats claimed they had been duped (maybe brainwashed?). The administration had given them faulty (or phony) intelligence. Bush broke his promise. They took their frustrations out on Condi, Rummy and Wolfy at congressional hearings, slamming them around for their mistakes, miscalculations and deceptions.
The last thing the public wants is another hearing on what went wrong in Iraq. However, I would like to see one more hearing - this one devoted to dragging prowar Democrats before the cameras to explain why they ever fell for Bush's promise to wage war as a last resort. And maybe they could explain why they ignored the skepticism of uniformed military leaders and the concerns of former officials who helped Bush 41 plan the Persian Gulf War. They also could explain why they didn't as much as flinch when Bush enunciated his doctrine of "pre-emptive war," a radical change in U.S. policy.
The first witness should be John Kerry, who said in the midst of his presidential campaign that he would still have voted for the war resolution even knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Does he still feel that way?
Democrats probably had the votes to stop the war. What they didn't have was the conviction to even try.
Philip Gailey's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified February 6, 2005, 00:22:15]
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