Jonah Goldberg

Just how big a threat was Saddam Hussein? Let's reprise what our leaders had to say on the subject. First, here's the president:

"If he refuses or continues to evade his obligations through more tactics of delay and deception, he and he alone will be to blame for the consequences. . Now, let's imagine the future. What if he fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction.? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who's really worked on this for any length of time believes that, too."

Here is the vice president:

"If you allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons, how many people is he going to kill with such weapons? He's already demonstrated a willingness to use these weapons. He poison-gassed his own people. He used poison gas and other weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors. This man has no compunction about killing lots and lots of people. So this is a way to save lives and to save the stability and peace of a region of the world that is important to the peace and security of the entire world."

Here's the hitch: That was Clinton and Gore in 1998, not Bush and Dick Cheney in 2002.

President Clinton offered his assessment in February 1998. Gore made his observations the following December, defending the military strikes Clinton had ordered against Iraq. These were not off-the-cuff remarks but vetted statements by the two highest officials of the United States.

Clinton and Gore were not alone in their conviction that Saddam had WMDs. France thought so, too, as did Israel, China, Russia, Britain, the United Nations, the CIA and the entire national security team of the Democratic administration. The Germans believed Saddam would have a nuclear weapon within 36 months.

Robert Einhorn, Clinton's deputy assistant secretary of state, told the Senate Governmental Affairs committee in March 2002 that Saddam could have nukes and the missiles capable of striking Europe "within four to five years" and would be able to deliver nukes in America via "non-conventional means." "If Iraq managed to get its hands on sufficient quantities of already produced fissile material," he said, "these threats could arrive much earlier."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller - the ranking Democratic on the Senate intelligence committee and now a full member of the "Bush lied" chorus - echoed Einhorn's assessment, adding, "I do believe that Iraq is an immediate threat" and "we can no longer afford to wait for a smoking gun."

Sens. Evan Bayh, Joseph Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards all voted for the war.

Most of these Democrats had access to the same intelligence as the president. But now, in one of the most repugnant and craven partisan ploys in modern American history, Democrats have decided that they cannot accept their own responsibility in what they clearly consider to be a mistake. They cannot even criticize the CIA for yet another horribly botched job or stick to the ample areas where constructive criticism is warranted. Instead, the same CIA that liberals derided for years is now heroic, and Senate Minority Leader Reid has decided - now that the Fitzgerald investigation has fizzled - to dedicate his party to slandering the president.

Meanwhile, the Democrats cannot even admit they made a mistake supporting the war - except in that they believed Bush's "lies." But how could Bush have lied? How was he to know the intelligence was wrong? Without knowing that, he could not have lied. But the Democrats will not allow for the possibility that the very same intelligence that prompted Clinton to bomb Iraq also informed Bush's decision to topple Saddam. And they will not even concede that, after 9/11, the argument over WMDs wasn't the best - never mind the sole - argument for toppling Saddam but the easiest one.

"Never again" was the new rule after 9/11, and - after ousting the Taliban - Saddam was the next obvious target. He applauded the attack, funded suicide bombers, defied the international community and, we now know, pretended he had WMDs. Remember: "Regime change" became the official policy of the U.S. in 1998, not 2002. Post-9/11, where would you start?

But the Democrats don't care. They don't care about all the previous investigations or that the planet is watching this spectacle. Or that their shabby accusations feed the very worst theories about America's role in the world. Heck, Howard Dean is recycling the charges in fundraising letters. They don't care that Iraq is poised to become either one of America's greatest achievements or its worst debacles. They want timetables, apologies and scalps.

But does anyone doubt that if there were no insurgency, with Iraq as far along in the democratic process as it is now, the Democrats would be boasting about their bi-partisan support for the war and cackling about how Democrats were right about "nation-building" all along?

But they don't care. In their America, partisanship begins at the water's edge.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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