The only serious Democratic presidential candidate to vote against the Iraq-war resolution in Congress is Bob Graham. The Florida senator, considered one of the few Democrats with national-security credentials, cast his "nay" vote partly because an Iraq war would distract the administration from the more important war on terror.
The mere buildup to war was forcing the administration to go easy on al-Qaida, according to Graham. As USA Today reported a month ago: "Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said Bush has 'lost focus' on the war on terrorism. 'Osama bin Laden and about two-thirds of his key operatives are still on the loose,' he said."
Rarely is a political argument so directly refuted by a real-world event. In this case, it was the capture over the weekend of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the most important al-Qaida operative in the world, at the same time that the United States is undertaking massive preparations for war in Iraq. At least Graham isn't alone in his embarrassment.
The Associated Press reported on West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller's worries: "The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says he's concerned that the Bush administration's focus on Iraq is draining resources from the fight against terrorism. ... 'Everything distracts us from the war on terrorism. I don't know how many wars one can fight,' he said."
Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold complained of Bush, "He seems so focused on Iraq, and it seems that not enough attention is being paid to the No. 1 threat against Americans, which are terrorist groups." Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski intoned: "Last year, the president said the war on terrorism was the most important thing. This year, he's got a new war. Well, I think we haven't ended the other war." Michigan Sen. Carl Levin said, "This administration seems not to acknowledge that the greatest threat of all is the terrorist threat, but instead has this total focus on Iraq."
Line up the crow, the humble pie and whatever else it is politicians eat when an opportunistic argument collapses in plain view.
Even before we nabbed Mohammed, the Democrats' "distraction" line made no sense. If the American soldiers gathering around Iraq weren't there, they would be cooling their heels at bases in Germany and the United States. There is simply no role for 200,000 ground troops in any other theater of the war on terror, unless Feingold wants to invade western Pakistan (good luck getting the U.N. authorization).
Nor was it ever credible that countries like France would ease up on the terror threat out of pique at U.S. plans in Iraq. Even Paris isn't that suicidal. As for an Iraq backlash toppling a terror ally like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he faced an extremist threat long before the United States thought about toppling Saddam and will face one long after Saddam is gone.
Finally, the "distraction" argument already looked silly when contacts between the Iraqi government and al-Qaida emerged, along with evidence that Baghdad was harboring an al-Qaida ally responsible for loosing a poison network in Europe. Iraq is an element of, not a "distraction" from, the war on terror.
It would have been easier to credit the Democrats all along had they been proposing different, tougher steps to fight the terror war. Instead, they wanted to attack the administration for failing to round up al-Qaida operatives without offering any policy alternative. "Osama bin Forgotten," the phrase of anti-war activists, was only a taunt.
Worse, Attorney General John Ashcroft, the administration's point man on arresting terrorists, cutting off their funding and keeping them from getting here in the first place, has been subjected to a campaign of calumny for doing nothing but prosecuting the terror war Democrats claim to support so vigorously.
The "distraction" argument might finally get a rest. But it was never a line that Democrats, terminally confused on national-security matters, had carefully thought through -- it was just something, anything, to say. Now they'll come up with something else, probably just as inane.