In Washington, soft-spokenness is often confused for intelligence and subtlety. We're so accustomed to shouting that when someone whispers we assume there must be something more thoughtful in the offing. A case in point is Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader. Just the other day he told reporters, "There's a dark cloud hanging over the White House." Then, to clarify this obscure metaphor, he added gravely, "It's really a storm cloud."
One expects more Solomonic nuance from the man any day now: "Something's fishy in the White House. And by that I mean the White House really smells much like a fish. An old fish. The sort of fish that smells bad." Or: "Look before you leap - because that way you'll know what you're leaping over and might not fall."
Reid is leading the Democrats' attack on the president over the war in Iraq, but because the minority leader wears such a big, soft mitten over his hamfistedness, it's difficult to appreciate how lame the attack really is. When asked to explain his vote for the war the other day he said, "I based [the vote] on a number of things: yellowcake; aluminum tubes; secret meetings by Iraqi agents in Europe; training facilities in Iraq; training terrorists. All these things simply were not true."
Never mind that these were not the reasons he offered at the time for his vote. Never mind that he had access to much of the same intelligence as the White House. Never mind he voted for the removal of Saddam in 1998. Never mind that simply because these things were not true doesn't mean the president lied. Never mind, never mind, never mind.
"Hindsight is 20-20," goes the common phrase, to which Reid might add, "You can see things better after the fact."
But the truth is hindsight isn't 20-20, and you can't always understand things better after the fact. If we could all see the past clearly and objectively there would be very few disagreements about politics, religion, history and whose turn it is to take out the garbage.
Indeed, the past Reid is pointing to is a mirage, and he's convinced many in his party that they see it, too. For example, on "Fox News Sunday," the vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, explained that his vote for war authorization in 2002 was really for more negotiations through the United Nations. This from the man who, with the benefit of copious classified intelligence at his disposal, took to the floor of the Senate as then-chairman of the Intelligence Committee to insist: "I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated."
If Iraq was an imminent threat, why on earth would Rockefeller be hoping for more U.N. negotiations? George W. Bush never said Iraq was an "imminent" threat. But it's funny: Democrats constantly insisted - during the last round of liberal whining - that Bush had implied the threat was imminent in order to short-circuit debate over the war. Because, you see, everyone agreed that if the threat from Iraq was imminent, then war would have been justified and necessary. Well, Rocky did say it was imminent - no doubt influencing many of his colleagues because he was their intelligence point-man. But now Rockefeller says he didn't vote for the war because the threat was imminent. Heck, he says he didn't vote for war at all. He voted for Kofi Annan to wag his finger at an imminent threat to the United States of America. That's leadership for you.
The truth is that Rockefeller saw things more clearly back then. Saddam may not have been an imminent threat, but Rockefeller was right that the question of imminence was "increasingly outdated." The lesson of 9/11 for most Americans back then wasn't "We need better intelligence about Saddam." It was "We must never let this happen again." The attacks proved that our enemies were willing to do anything, and that meant no more fooling around with U.N. resolutions, inspectors, or Saddam's lies and bluffs. It was time to get serious. And Saddam was the right target not so much because he was the biggest threat but because he was the best place to get started, after Afghanistan.
This doesn't mean there weren't good and serious objections to toppling Saddam. Reid is forgetting all that. Indeed, his chief - almost sole - objection to the war wasn't about Iraqi intelligence, it was about Bush's failure to build a larger international coalition (ditto John Kerry and others). The emphasis on proving the WMD angle came from Bush's desire to win the U.N.'s approval for an umpteenth resolution, not the Democrat-controlled Senate.
You don't hear about any of this from the "Bush lied" Dems because they're following Reid's lead. And, as they say, the fish rots from the head down.
The head is Reid, in case you didn't get that.