Victor Davis Hanson

Why did a majority of Democratic Senators - such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Harry Reid, Jay Rockefeller and Chuck Schumer - vote to authorize a war with Iraq on Oct. 11, 2002? And why is this war now supposedly George Bush's misfortune and not theirs?

The original fear of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, of course, played a role in their votes - but only a role. In the 23 writs that authorized force to remove Saddam, senators at the time also cited Iraq's sanctuary and subsidies for terrorists. Then there were Saddam's attempts to assassinate a former United States president; his repression of, and use of weapons of mass destruction against, his own people; and his serial violations of both United Nations and Gulf War agreements. If paranoia over weapons of mass destruction later proved just that, these other more numerous reasons to remove Saddam remain unassailable.

Nevada's Sen. Reid summed up best the feeling of Democrats that there were plenty of reasons to remove Saddam Hussein in a post-9/11 climate. He reminded his Senate colleagues that Saddam's refusal to honor past agreements "constitutes a breach of the armistice which renders it void and justifies resumption of the armed conflict."

But it was not just fear of Saddam alone that prompted Democrats to authorize the use of force to remove him. There was the more general, liberal notion of using American arms to stop violent dictators. While the Democratic Party has a strong pacifist wing, its mainstream has always advocated a global promotion of American liberal values - sometimes through the use of preemptory force.

Many Democrats in Congress, for example, had earlier authorized George Bush Sr. to fight the first Gulf War to stop Saddam's mad drive to absorb Kuwait. In 1999, House Democrats sought, but failed, to pass congressional authorization for President Clinton's ongoing air war against Slobodan Milosevic.

Democratic leaders from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama have long lamented that the United States did not preempt in Africa to stop the Rwandan genocide. In contrast, George Bush, not Al Gore, ran for the presidency in 2000 promising to end Clinton's humanitarian interventions, whether in the Balkans, Haiti or Somalia. As then-candidate Bush put it, "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building."

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.