The Democratic game plan for bringing down George Bush and his administration is now clear -- and it is quite a plan.
The name of the game is Iraq. Voters usually vote their pocketbooks, but the economy is inconveniently robust, and even gasoline prices are far below their summer peak. It is the situation in Iraq, and how we got there, that understandably distresses the American people. So the Democrats are well into Act I of their three-part drama, and its theme is simple: "George Bush lied us into the war in Iraq."
The charge is simplicity itself: Bush tricked us into supporting his invasion of Iraq by alleging that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), when in fact Saddam had none, and Bush knew it.
The trouble with this charge is that every major Democrat in the Clinton administration, including Clinton himself, alleged exactly the same thing, again and again. Thus Clinton, in 1998: "If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program."
Only space limitations prevent me from quoting equally explicit statements by Secretary of State Albright, National Security Adviser Berger, and Sen. Carl Levin and John Kerry, among a dozen others. And they kept repeating their warnings right into the Bush administration. Here was Sen. Hillary Clinton, in October 2002: "In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stocks, his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members."
And these Democratic assertions were backed up by the firm assurances of every major intelligence service in the Western world, beginning with CIA Director George Tenet, who told Bush that Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Faced with such assurances, Bush accepted them. He would have been deeply irresponsible if he hadn't.
Despite this, the charge that "Bush lied us into war" has had a surprisingly long run. But the Democrats know very well that it can't last forever, and they are accordingly looking forward to Act II of their game plan. This will involve conceding that maybe Bush was simply wrong (not lying) about Saddam's possession of WMDs, but that he "cherry-picked" among conflicting intelligence assessments, ignoring those that doubted the ruling assumption and highlighting those that reinforced it, in order to justify the invasion. That will require them to emphasize cautionary footnotes in the intelligence assessments and minimize the major conclusions.
But the Democrats look for further support if they capture the House of Representatives in next year's Congressional elections.
Armed with the subpoena power, Democrat-controlled committees of the House could zero in on any doubts that existed in the intelligence community in the years up to 2003, and issue reports "confirming" that George Bush deliberately "hyped" the evidence to deceive the American people, even if he believed in its basic truth.
Thus the stage will be re-set for Act III, the drama's culmination, in 2007 and 2008: The impeachment of George W. Bush.
Some readers may think that such a development is implausible. But they underestimate the hatred the Democrats feel for Bush, and their desperation at the current low estate of their party. Impeachment, moreover (which is constitutionally the function of the House), strikes many Democrats as simply a condign payback for what the Republicans did to Clinton. If they capture the Senate as well as the House in 2006, Bush's trial and removal may well result.
Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. There is turbulence ahead.