What this is “really about” is politics, not intelligence. Back in 2002, some 29 Senate Democrats voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The proposal breezed through 77-23. No doubt that some of those Democrats voted the way they did because they believed Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.
A lot of us were wrong about WMD. We assumed he had them and was hiding them -- why else would he have spent years obstructing inspectors? And intelligence agencies around the world said Saddam was working on WMD. “Everybody got it wrong,” as Sen. Roberts put it. “It was an assumption train that after the inspectors left, Saddam Hussein would probably reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. That evidence or that intelligence was wrong.”
Even without WMD, Saddam was no boy scout. “Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who has tortured and killed his own people, even his own family members, to maintain his iron grip on power,” one senator noted in 2002. “He used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds and on Iranians, killing over 20 thousand people.” That, by the way, was Sen. Hillary Clinton. Other leading Democrats, in the Senate and the Clinton administration, made similar comments between 1998 and 2002.
For his part, Harry Reid voted for the war in Iraq, explaining, “I know this nation would be justified in making war to enforce the terms we imposed on Iraq in 1991, if we have to.” Thus Sen. Reid’s stunt this week was mostly about was changing the subject. “Alito [President Bush’s recent nominee to the Supreme Court] had his day,” a Democratic leadership aide told Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. “We’re going back to our story.” And that story is, apparently, that they were hoodwinked into supporting the war in Iraq.
A month ago it seemed as though a crack-up was coming within the right, since some senators were sure to support Harriet Miers (the president’s first choice for the Supreme Court) and some were sure to oppose her as unqualified.
Now, though, that’s history. In the Senate we seeing global cooling -- at least in the relations between newly united conservatives and newly nervous liberals. “For the next year and a half, I can’t trust Sen. Reid,” announced majority leader Bill Frist.
That’s all to the good. We could use less pretentiousness about “my esteemed colleague” and more robust debate about the future of our country. All stunts aside, that would force both parties to figure out what they stand for and how they’re going to accomplish their goals. As one Democratic senator famously said not so long ago, “Bring it on.”