REMEMBER WHEN Democrats warned President Bush against “politicizing” the war in Iraq?
It all seems like such a long time ago now, easily a year, an eternity by political standards. It was nonsense at the time, of course, as Democrats were all too eager to politicize the war themselves. At the time, they concocted a strange position: They were for the war in theory, just against it in application. They supported every roadblock that stood in the way of Saddam Hussein’s deposal—e.g., a UN mandate, “more time” for inspectors, etc.—all to strike a delicate political balance between the left-wing die-hards who vote in their primaries and the mainstream that votes in general elections.
But now the politicization has reach absurdist heights, with Democrats agonizing about 16 words in a speech that were not only truthful, but also inconsequential. The party’s bizarre post-war posture is, in many respects, like its pre-war version. Democratic congressional leaders and presidential candidates who nominally supported the war back then still do now, albeit with postwar caveats to replace the prewar ones that no longer apply. Once again, the goal is to appease the anti-war base without alienating America’s pro-war majority—a tenuous position, to say the least.
The official Democratic line is now: We still support the war, but oppose the Bush Administration’s case for it. Or, to quote Massachusetts Senator and presidential aspirant John Kerry, “I have no question about the decision I made” to support the war, but he has grown so skeptical that “(i)t’s not just the 16 words, it’s all of our intelligence” building up to the war that he now doubts. (See Terry Neal’s fine Washington Post write-up, The Contortions of the Pro-War Democrats.)
The logic is self-contradictory. If the justification for the war was invalid, then how can anyone claim the war itself to be justified? And what, precisely, invalidates the justification anyway? In his over-scrutinized State of the Union remarks, the President merely observed that British intelligence suspected Saddam of trying to buy uranium in Niger—a suspicion the Brits maintain to this day. Bush has acknowledged that the British claim, which some parts of the American intelligence community doubted, didn’t belong in his speech, which is a far cry from a lie, let alone fabricating the case for war.
After all, whether or not Saddam went to Africa to bolster his nuclear program does nothing to change the reality that he had a nuclear program at all. It doesn’t change the reality that he was working on and concealing weapons of mass destruction, or that he was in material breach of both the Gulf War ceasefire and Resolution 1441 (among others). To claim otherwise is to buy into the inane belief that Saddam spent years trying to obstruct UN inspectors for no logical reason whatsoever, as he really wanted to comply with international law.
All the uranium flap shows is that, as the Wall Street Journal’s Robert Bartley put it, “intelligence analysts sifting ambiguous reports sometimes disagree.” Some parts of the Administration considered the Niger allegations credible; others, dissented, a dissent that manifested itself in a single footnote—a footnote to which Democratic congressional leaders had access before the State of the Union address, yet none cried foul when Bush uttered those now controversial 16 words.
Most intelligence data is in some ways suspect, and all of it is open to interpretation. It’s worth remembering the saga of Coleen Rowley in the months leading up to September 11. Almost alone among fellow FBI agents, she suspected that Zacarias Moussaoui was up to no good. Last year, Democrats made quite a stink about the Administration’s “failure” to act more quickly to what, in the pre-9/11 days, could have been signs of a planned al-Qaeda attack on American soil. Now that the Administration has reacted more quickly to the threat Hussein posed, top Democrats charge that it rushed to judgment.
So, who’s politicizing the war now?
And at what cost? Among other popular Democratic complaints is that troop morale in Iraq is suffering—a problem that surely isn’t helped when half the country’s political leadership claims that maybe troops never should have gone to Iraq in the first place.
Then there’s the question of what happens next in the War on Terror. As long as Democrats take potshots at the President’s credibility, they make it all the harder for him to apply pressure to the mullahs in Iran, the sheiks in Saudi Arabia, or anyone else complicit in the terrorist enterprise. And as long as Bush is hampered by the Democrats’ attacks, America’s enemies needn’t be too concerned about his threats or demands.
Democratic leaders’ short-term political interest comes at the expense of America’s long-term security needs. By catering to the party’s kook contingent, they unwittingly make life easier for the terrorists at whom their ire would be more properly directed. This is precisely the self-destructive sort of “politicization” against which Democrats once railed, even if they never meant it.