If President George W. Bush can implicate enough Democrats in the deception and incompetence that led us into Iraq, he seems to expect that his dismal ratings will rise again, as they did when many people—including most members of Congress—still believed him. But why should the stupidity or even the mendacity of politicians of either party provide any exoneration for him?
Escaping accountability was plainly the aim of the message he delivered to the nation on Veterans Day, when he marred a patriotic holiday with a tinny partisan speech. How strange on that day to hear him mention Senator John Kerry, a Navy veteran whose superior military record his Texas minions trashed last year.
Seeking to use Mr. Kerry as a prop, the President declared that many critics of his war policy “supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: ‘When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security.’” He went on to note that “more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate—who had access to the same intelligence—voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.”
Now it’s true that Mr. Kerry and many of his fellow Democrats stumbled haplessly into the Iraq trap laid for them by the White House, and are only now beginning to learn how to articulate their dissent. They entrusted the President with the authority to use force against Saddam Hussein, believing him when he promised war would be his last resort, and have since learned how carelessly he abused that trust. They accepted the worthless intelligence reports on Iraq’s arsenal of mass destruction that had been subjected to extreme distortion by the White House.
And it is also too true that for too long, leading Democrats hesitated to speak out.
Yet much of what the President said to justify himself on Veterans Day—echoed in propaganda by the Republican National Committee—was wrong, just like the falsehoods concocted to drive us to war. (Remember the “mobile bioweapons lab” and the “unmanned drone” that supposedly threatened our security? The Senate Democrats didn’t invent those comic-book dangers. )
When Mr. Kerry and his colleagues voted for that fateful resolution in October 2002, were they indeed voting for war? Or were they voting, as Mr. Bush assured us at the time, to give him the authority that might help him to avoid war? Senators with grave doubts about the wisdom of invasion still voted for the war-powers resolution, because they hoped its explicit threat would force Iraq to permit the resumption of U.N. inspections.
The Senate couldn’t know back then that the President and his national-security cabinet had been planning war against Iraq since early 2001. The Senate was not privy to all the same intelligence as the President, nor could its members have known how that information had been distorted and exaggerated by the influence of the Vice President and other high White House officials. The Senate didn’t know, as the British intelligence chief learned, that the facts were being “fixed” to build a case for war.
Without the firm imprimatur of Dick Cheney, no Senator could have claimed to know “without doubt” that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear program. Without the confident endorsement of Donald Rumsfeld, no Senator could have claimed to know “exactly” where the “weapons of mass destruction” were located. Without the jut-jawed insistence of Condi Rice, no Senator could have touted the uranium from Africa and the aluminum tubes that were supposed to make a nuke for Saddam.
It is pitiful indeed to hear the President now pretend that the responsibility for this deadly fiasco somehow falls equally on both parties and both branches of government. As far as the public is concerned, that debate is over—and his administration is guilty.
While Mr. Bush attempts to adjust recent history in his defense, Republicans and Democrats have begun to respond to deepening suspicions about the White House and the war. The American people are well aware not only that they were misled into Iraq, but that the Bush administration never had any viable strategy for executing the war and extricating our troops.
So at long last, under pressure from the Democratic minority, the Senate leadership has demanded that the President tell them how and perhaps when he will bring our soldiers home. Their weak resolution requiring quarterly progress reports on the Iraqization of the war will achieve nothing, of course. But it is, in essence, a vote of little confidence in a leader who deserves none—and it should embolden those who would hold him accountable.