Draft Kennedy

Posted: Jan 26, 2004 12:00 AM

 There are seven men now traipsing around New Hampshire looking for votes, but apparently that?s not enough for some Democrats. There?s one more man who may be aching to get in the presidential race, but doesn?t want to do the actual campaigning. He seems to be holding out hope for one more ?Draft Kennedy? movement.

 What else to make of Sen. Edward Kennedy?s mislabeled and misleading column in the The Washington Post on Jan. 20?

 In the piece, titled ?A Dishonest War,? Kennedy accuses President Bush of a serious offense?lying to get us into the war in Iraq. But the facts don?t support his arguments.

 ?The events of Sept. 11, 2001, gave advocates of war [in Iraq] the opening they needed,? Kennedy wrote. ?They tried immediately to tie Hussein to al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks.? As indeed they should have, because there was indeed a connection.

On Nov. 24, The Weekly Standard reported the contents of a memo prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee. That document proves ?Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003,? the magazine wrote. The memo was assembled as part of the committee?s investigation of pre-Iraq war intelligence. It cited information from several sources, including the CIA, the FBI and interviews with captured al Qaeda members.

But Kennedy ignores any connection, and moves on to note ?Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld created an Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon to analyze the intelligence for war and bypass the traditional screening process. Vice President [Dick] Cheney relied on intelligence from Iraqi exiles.?

Actually, both of those reactions make a lot of sense. One thing was clear in the days following Sept. 11: We had dropped the ball on intelligence gathering. We had no idea an attack was coming, and suddenly thousands of innocent people were dead. It only makes sense that top government officials would react by attempting to get fresh eyes looking at and evaluating evidence, since clearly the ?professionals? had failed so completely.

Kennedy later chastises President Bush for saying, in Nov. 2001, ?Afghanistan is still just the beginning.? He attacks the vice president for adding later that month, ?if I were Saddam Hussein, I?d be thinking very carefully about the future, and I?d be looking very closely to see what happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan.?

Now, Kennedy is free to disagree with this policy, but it?s certainly not based on dishonesty. It is the Bush Doctrine: Take the fight to the terrorists, on their land, rather than allow them to attack us here at home.

President Bush hasn?t wavered from his determination to do this, and stressed the point again in his State of the Union speech. Plus, a recent Gallup poll shows the Bush Doctrine enjoys 75 percent support among the American people.

But according to Kennedy, the Bush Doctrine has led to a sort of Attention Deficit Disorder in the administration. ?We lost our clear focus on al Qaeda [in early 2002]? he lectures. ?In the following months, although bin Laden was still at large, the drumbeat on Iraq gradually drowned out those who felt Hussein was no imminent threat.?

However, it makes no sense to say the only thing the president can do is track al Qaeda. Certainly it should be one of the main things he does, but not the only thing. Other priorities will come up, both at home and abroad. And of course the president can handle those things, while still going after al Qaeda.

Finally, Kennedy takes Bush to task for politicizing the war. ?The administration insisted on a vote in Congress to authorize the war before Congress adjourned for the elections,? he writes. The senator claims this was done to divide Democrats ahead of an election. But the real reason is that the administration knew it couldn?t go to war without congressional support.

Just as the first President Bush secured congressional approval before the Gulf War, this president wanted to make sure lawmakers were on board. And 77 U.S. senators voted to authorize the use of force. Some partisan divide.

Kennedy wraps up with a lie of his own. ?Hussein?s brutal regime was not an adequate justification for war,? he sniffs. Well, we know today that Saddam killed at least half a million people during his decades in power. We?ll probably uncover more mass graves and identify more victims in the months ahead. Even if no weapons of mass destruction are ever found, that record of brutality is more than enough justification for removing him.

Besides, the greatest political minds of our time have long been convinced that Saddam did have WMD. As Kennedy himself said in September 2002, ?we have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.?

It may well be true that the first thing lost in a political campaign is honesty. Indeed, considering Sen. Kennedy?s case, honesty can be trampled by those who aren?t even running?even if maybe they wish they were.