On this sixth anniversary of America's invasion of Iraq, there is finally a consensus among supporters and opponents that we’ve won the war. The surge that Bush launched and Democrats opposed has been successful and, as a result, Iraq has become a Middle Eastern democracy, an anti-terrorist regime, and an American ally. It would be hard to imagine a more remarkable turnabout or a more comprehensive repudiation of conventional political wisdom. Yet this has not led to a comparable reappraisal by critics of the war of their previous attacks, or to any mea culpas by Democrats who launched a scorched earth campaign against the president who led it, and continued it for five years while the war dragged on.
The Democratic attacks on the war described America’s commander-in-chief as a liar who misled his country and sent American soldiers to die in a conflict that was unnecessary, illegal and unjust. This made prosecution of the war incalculably harder while strengthening the resolve of our enemies to defeat us. It is time to re-evaluate the words and actions of the war’s opponents in the stark light of a history that proved them wrong.
In the fall of 2002, a majority of Democrats in the Senate joined Republicans in voting to authorize President Bush to use force to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein. In July 2003, only three months after Saddam had been removed, the Democratic National Committee launched a national campaign which accused President Bush of lying in order to trick Democrats into voting for the war. It was the beginning of a five-year campaign designed to paint the president as the liar-in-chief and America as a criminal aggressor, and the military occupier of a poor country that had not attacked us.
What had changed in the intervening three months to turn Democrats so vehemently against the war they had authorized? The answer can only be found in domestic politics. In those three months, an unknown antiwar candidate named Howard Dean had taken the lead in the primary polls and was looking like a shoe-in for the Democratic presidential nomination. As a result rival candidates who had voted for the war, including eventual nominees Kerry and Edwards, changed their positions 180 degrees and joined the attacks on President Bush. Naturally, the Democrats couldn’t admit their attacks were motivated by crass political calculations. Instead, they claimed that they had been deceived by the White House which had manipulated the intelligence on Iraq, persuading them to support the war on false premises.
This allegation was in fact the biggest lie of the war, since Democrats had full access to all U.S. intelligence on Iraq through their seats on the congressional intelligence committees. This intelligence was available to them, in advance of their vote to authorize the use of force. In the months and years that followed, the Democrats added other false charges -- that troops “killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” were “terrorizing kids and…women,” and had committed atrocities comparable to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime.” They rejoiced when news reporters leaked information about national security programs designed to combat the terrorists – and thus destroyed them. They held up funding for American soldiers on the battlefield, attempted to cut off all funding, and when that failed, tried to tie funding to a timeline that would ensure America’s defeat. They openly accused uniformed officers like General David Petraeus of lying about conditions on the ground and hoped against hope that “this war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything.”
Dissent is legitimate in wartime, but the Democratic Party’s opposition to this war went far beyond dissent into unprecedented territory. Fortunately, the Bush administration was able to retrieve its own mistakes and its domestic opponents to win a war that Democrats said was unwinnable and (despite their own authorization) shouldn’t have been fought in the first place. But it was no thanks to the Party that now occupies the White House that this American war was won.