Victor Davis Hanson

"This war is lost," Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid recently proclaimed.

That pessimism about Iraq is now widely shared by his Democratic colleagues. But many of these converted doves aren't being quite honest about why they've radically changed their views of the war. Most of the serious Democratic presidential candidates -- Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd, and former Sen. Jonathan Edwards -- once voted, along with Reid, to authorize the war. Sen. Barack Obama didn't. But, then, he wasn't in the Senate at the time.

Now these former supporters of Iraq find themselves under assault by a Democratic base that demands apologies. Only Edwards has said he is sorry for his vote of support.

But if the Democratic Party is now almost uniformly anti-war, it is also understandable why it can't field a single major presidential candidate who was in Congress when it counted and tried to stop the invasion.

After all, responsible Democrats in national office had been convinced by Bill Clinton for eight years and then George W. Bush for two that Saddam's Iraq was both a conventional and terrorist threat to the United States and its regional allies.

Most in Congress accepted that Saddam was a genocidal mass murderer. They knew he used his petrodollars to acquire dangerous weapons. And they felt his savagery was intolerable in a post-9/11 world. There was no debate that Saddam gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers or offered sanctuary to terrorists like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal. And few Democrats questioned whether the al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was in Kurdistan.

In other words, Democrats, like most others, wanted Saddam taken out for a variety of reasons beyond fears of WMD. Moreover, it was the Clinton-appointed CIA director George Tenet who supplied both Democrats and Republicans in Congress with much of the intelligence they would later cite in deciding to attack Saddam.

When both congressional Democrats and Republicans cast their votes to go along with President Bush, they even crafted 23 formal causes for war. So far only the writ concerning the fear of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction has in hindsight proven false.

But we no longer hear much about these various reasons why the Democrats understandably supported the removal of Saddam Hussein. Instead, they now most often plead they were hoodwinked by sneaky warmongering neocons or sexed-up partisan intelligence reports.

There is nothing wrong with changing your mind, especially in matters as serious as war -- but the public at least deserves a sincere explanation for this radical about-face.

So why not come clean about their changes of heart?

Many Democrats apparently think that claiming they were victimized by Bush and the neocons is more palatable than confessing to their own demoralization with the news from the front.

Others may fear that admitting publicly that a disheartened America should not or cannot finish a conflict would send a dangerous message to our enemies. So while these Democrats accuse President Bush of being hardheaded and unwavering on Iraq, they are still afraid that their own mea culpas would send an equally dangerous message of inconsistency abroad.

Democrats need to admit the truth: that removing a dangerous Saddam Hussein and promoting democracy in his place seemed a good idea to them in 2003-4 when the cost appeared tolerable. Now, in 2007, with over 3,000 American lives lost in Iraq, they feel differently.

In other words, Democrats could argue that somewhere along the line -- whether it was after Fallujah or the start of sectarian Sunni-Shiite violence -- they either lost confidence in the United States' very ability to stabilize Iraq, or felt that even if we could, it was no longer worth the tab in American blood and treasure.

That confession could, of course, be nuanced with exculpatory arguments about the mistakes made by those in the Bush administration, such as: "Our necessary war that I voted for to remove Saddam worked; your optional one to stay on to promote democracy didn't."

Such an explanation of turnabout would be transparent and invite a public discussion. And it would certainly be more legitimate that the current protestations of "the neo-cons made me do it."

With America still engaged in a tough war, that kind of excuse-making just doesn't cut it.


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.