Sen. Ted Kennedy last week launched a blistering attack on the Bush administration's Iraq policy. He charged that the Iraq War was driven by domestic political considerations, as White House operative Karl Rove and other administration officials dragged the country to war to improve the president's political standing. In this view, the war wasn't -- whatever its ultimate wisdom -- the finale of a 10-year-long battle with Saddam Hussein, supported by 70 percent of the American public and authorized by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress, but a political fraud pure and simple.
How must recent history look to Kennedy to sustain his theory? Something like this:
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the first President Bush leaves Saddam in power in what is widely denounced as a mistake by hawks, but is really farsighted paternal politics. Bush realizes his son will need an international punching bag midway through his first term.
In 1998, President Clinton asserts a U.S. right to unilateral military action against Iraq and argues that Saddam's continued possession of weapons of mass destruction presents a grave threat. His statements provide fodder for Bush administration hawks in 2002. Why Clinton would want to help Bush's partisan political plot in such a way will always be a mystery, although perhaps he wanted to help Bush in order to block the 2004 Democratic presidential aspirants, thus creating an opening for his wife in 2008.
In October of 1998, the Iraq Liberation Act unanimously passes the Senate, making it the official policy of the U.S. government to seek regime change in Iraq. That every Democrat in the Senate, including Kennedy, votes to advance Bush's conspiracy so early -- when Bush is still governor of Texas -- speaks well of Bush's ability to build bipartisan coalitions. Although it's impossible to know without access to congressional phone logs, Rove must have worked the phones very hard.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other officials begin to push for toppling Saddam, seemingly acting on long-held convictions, but really worried that Bush's 80 percent approval ratings won't last. They are supported by a cadre of liberal hawks, such as former Clinton official Kenneth Pollack and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, also seemingly acting on long-held convictions, but secretly working in close cooperation with Rove after reviewing focus-group data with him.
As the war talk mounts, Democrats agitate for a vote in Congress. This seems a basic call for democratic accountability, but actually represents a dastardly betrayal by Democrats of their own party.
The Iraq War resolution passes Congress easily in the fall 2002, with a majority of Senate Democrats voting "yes." Those putting their partisan interests aside to help instead the partisan interests of a conservative Republican include Sens. Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Tom Harkin, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. You know what they say about strange bedfellows.
In November of 2002, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passes Resolution 1441, giving Saddam a "final opportunity" to comply with U.N. demands. An attempt to make the United Nations seem relevant? Don't be naive. It's really part of a worldwide effort to enhance Bush's electoral fortunes. And Democrats say the administration isn't multilateral enough.
Before the war begins in April, Bush gives Saddam 48 hours to leave power, but Saddam refuses in what seems a last act of defiance, but in reality speaks to his -- well-known, among Iraq experts -- desire to help Bush by providing him a pretext to invade his country, chase him from power, kill his sons and check his head for lice. The Iraqi people feign pleasure at his capture only to provide the Bush campaign a few good visuals, useful in swing states in the upcoming presidential election.
You can quibble about details of this narrative, but there are really only two options -- you can believe all of this happened for something like these reasons, or that the Ted Kennedy view is paranoid lunacy.