Democratic presidential candidates can criticize President Bush's conduct of the War on Terror and his decision to attack Iraq with relative impunity now, but soon the eventual nominee will have to account for his irresponsible stands on those issues -- and it won't be pleasant for him.
The Democrats' claim that Bush didn't marshal a large enough coalition is bogus, and their charge that he exaggerated reports of WMD is a diversion and a red herring, except on the issue of Bush's character. But I doubt that anywhere close to a majority of Americans believe the carefully orchestrated Democratic lie that President Bush deliberately exaggerated evidence to justify an invasion of Iraq that his neo-conservative puppet masters choreographed well ahead of his inauguration.
The analysis should, and hopefully will, turn on how President Bush acted based on the intelligence that was available to him -- and the Democratic congressmen in office at the time.
The issue is not what we know or think we know now about Iraq's WMD. Even David Kay's initial statement over the weekend expressing doubt about Iraq's absence of WMD stockpiles should have little bearing on the debate. (Though it should be noted that Kay believes that Iraq had some WMD -- because he said they were moved to Syria shortly before the American invasion. Kay also implied that Bush is blameless in this matter, because if there was a failure, it was one of intelligence, not executive leadership.) The issue is how President Bush performed his duties as commander in chief based on intelligence that Saddam was feverishly pursuing WMD and diligently trying to conceal his actions -- and this was what our intelligence indicated, no matter how ardently Democrats deny it.
President Bush gave Saddam chance after chance to demonstrate he'd complied with United Nations resolutions. Repeatedly, the dictator thumbed his nose at us and then openly mocked us with his 12,000-page farce of a compliance declaration. (Neither the Democrats nor their French and German soul mates have ever explained what motivated Saddam to play that game, if in fact he was complying with the resolutions. David Kay gives us a possible explanation: Saddam thought he was creating WMD; his scientists were duping him.)
When it became clear that Saddam was not going to cooperate, President Bush began patiently and persistently to lobby our allies and the U.N. in favor of military action. After giving Saddam one last chance to comply -- which he did not, and we must never forget that -- and exhausting reasonable efforts to expand the coalition of the willing, he did what good leaders do: He took decisive action.
What did his opponents do or say they would have done? Well, Dean says he would have opposed the war, and Clark, typically, has said different things to different people but now is steadfastly opposed. Kerry and Edwards expediently voted for the resolution simply because the overwhelming majority of Americans supported it at the time. Kerry later tried to squirm out of his vote, not because he discovered new information or came to believe that Bush lied about the intelligence, but because Howard Dean was making headway on the campaign trail with a fervent antiwar message. And both Kerry and Edwards, also to save face with their base, shamelessly voted against the $87 billion resolution for American troops and rebuilding Iraq.
Kerry offers the lame excuse that he understood the war resolution to authorize military action only as a last resort. But the resolution was unambiguous. And nearly all of the leading Democrats claim Bush misrepresented the intelligence data, though their party leaders had access to that very same intelligence themselves. Would Harry Truman approve of his party's would-be successors to the presidency so dishonorably passing the buck or vacillating on this critical issue?
Regardless of the Democrats' efforts to scapegoat Bush, most of them will have to explain why they wouldn't have invaded Iraq based on existing intelligence at the time -- irrespective of what President Bush did or didn't say about it. Let them try to reconcile this with their pretensions to be bullish on American security.
Democratic candidates are between a rock and a hard place -- caught between their foaming antiwar base and a sober American mainstream that knows we have to take the war to the terrorists and their nation-state sponsors.
The leading Democratic candidates, including John Kerry, despite his heroic record in Vietnam, are committed doves and soft on national defense and American security. When the dust settles from the primary season, it will be interesting to see how the Democratic nominee tries to meet his burden of proving he will make a good commander in chief. A tough burden indeed.