Throughout American history, it was usually the Democratic Party that proved the more interventionist. Democratic Presidents - whether Woodrow Wilson in 1917, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939-40, Harry Truman in 1950, John Kennedy in 1963 or Bill Clinton in 1999 - long battled Republican isolationists who insisted that it was never in America's interest to fight costly wars abroad unless directly attacked by a foreign nation.
Again, why then did the majority of Democratic Senators vote for the present war in October 2002?
One, they rightly concurred with the president's post-9/11 conversion to the idea that removing a Middle Eastern mass-murdering regime and leaving a consensual government in its place could be a key component in winning the war against Islamic terrorism. And two, their party had always believed that the United States can sometimes make things better abroad by stopping tyrants and dictators.
By the same token, why do many of these same initial supporters of the Iraq war four years later now promise either to withdraw troops or to cut off funds, and so often hedge on or renounce their past records?
Partisan advantage explains much of the present posturing against an opposition president. But mostly, the rising Democratic furor comes as a reflection of public anger at the costs of the war -- and the sense that we are not winning.
Unlike the invasion of Panama (1989), the Gulf war (1991), the Balkans war (1999) or even the Afghanistan conflict (2001-2007), Iraq has taken over 3,000 American lives. Had the reconstruction of Iraq gone as relatively smoothly as the three-week removal of Saddam, most Democratic candidates would now be heralding their past muscular support for democratic change in Iraq.
So instead of self-serving attacks on the present administration, Democratic senators and candidates should simply confess that while most of the earlier reasons to remove Saddam remain valid, the largely unforeseen costs of stabilizing Iraq in their view have proved too high, and now outweigh the dangers of leaving.
But they should remember one final consideration. The next time a Democratic administration makes a case for using America's overwhelming military force to preempt a Milosevic or a mass murderer in Darfur - and history suggests that one will - the Democrats' own present disingenuous anti-war rhetoric may come back to haunt them, ensuring that such future humanitarian calls will probably fall on ears as deaf as they are partisan.