- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

In recent weeks, many Democrats have shed any reluctance to sternly criticize President Bush in the conduct of the war on terrorism. At a June 29 fund-raiser in Nashville, Al Gore delivered a speech questioning the success of the war, basing his claim on the fact that "they haven't gotten Osama bin Laden." The day before, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle asserted that U.S. war efforts "have not been as successful as we hoped [they] could be" and blamed the president for the failure to "capture the ringleaders of al Qaeda." Several days earlier, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry asserted on "Meet the Press" that the December operation in Tora Bora was "a failed military operation" and called U.S. military strategy there "an enormous mistake." In an April political speech to Florida Democrats, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards accused the president of committing "an enormous mistake," thus permitting Afghanistan to go "right back to chaos, right back to where it was under the Taliban." It is hardly a coincidence that the rash of wartime critiques has erupted among the president's political opponents who dream of defeating him in the 2004 election.

Fair enough. With American lives and treasure on the line, the nation's elected representatives, who may one day soon have to vote to significantly increase America's commitment of both to the war on terrorism, have a duty to ensure that the campaign is waged as effectively as possible. After all, in the late 1960s, few senators were as passionately opposed to the Vietnam War as Mr. Gore's father. The anti-war positions of Al Gore Sr. legitimately cost him his Senate seat in 1970 in the Volunteer State, so named because of Tennessee's outstanding military tradition. The lesson was not lost on Mr. Gore, who was one of only 10 Democratic senators to vote to authorize the Persian Gulf military campaign against Iraq in 1991.

If post-September 11 U.S. military operations are open to fair-minded scrutiny, then surely the same should apply to the defense-related issues that preceded the terrorist attacks, including, of course, the Democrats' vote on the Gulf War resolution. In the pivotal senatorial campaigns involving Democratic incumbents Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Tom Harkin of Iowa, the outcome of which will likely determine which party controls the Senate, the candidates' positions on defense issues certainly are fair game. (All three voted against the 1991 Gulf War resolution, as did Messrs. Daschle, Kerry, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden Jr. and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.)

Minnesota Republican candidate Norm Coleman has challenged Mr. Wellstone, a former academic who normally relishes his place on the extreme left of his liberal party, for his repeated votes against increases in defense spending during the Clinton-Gore administration, when military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product collapsed to its lowest level since before Pearl Harbor. Mr. Johnson has come under fire from Republican John Thune for voting 29 times against national missile defense and seven times against the B-2 strategic bomber, which played such an important role in the Afghanistan bombing campaign. Mr. Harkin, who ran an unsuccessful 1992 populist campaign for his party's presidential nomination criticizing Mr. Bush's father for concentrating on foreign affairs, has been a longtime foe of adequate defense spending. Hilariously, the Wellstone and Johnson camps are claiming that their records are being distorted.

The Democrats are hypocrites. Their prospective presidential contestants claim the right to criticize various aspects of the conduct of the war on terrorism, while insisting they support the war in general. Yet, the party cries foul when its vulnerable liberal colleagues are called to account for their votes on defense and foreign-policy matters preceding the war. Worse, recall that Democrats feigned outrage in January when White House political adviser Karl Rove recommended that Republican candidates emphasize the utterly uncontestable reality that they "do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and hereby protecting America." Implausibly, Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe accused Mr. Rove of "politicizing the war," declaring his matter-of-fact observations to be "nothing short of despicable."

As Mr. McAuliffe well knows, there is a reason why a recent Gallup poll, reported in the National Journal, revealed that Republicans enjoy a 59-percent-to-23-percent advantage over Democrats as the party better able to deal with defense and military matters. Analogously, by a 51-19 margin, the same poll also revealed that Americans believed congressional Republicans would do a better job dealing with terrorism than congressional Democrats. To fully understand why Democrats are hypocritically charging Republicans with politicizing the war on terrorism, be advised that crucial cohorts of the poll revealed these Republican advantages in the war on terrorism: 49-19 among suburbanites, 44-19 among independents and 47-23 among moderates.

With both bodies of Congress so narrowly divided, no wonder Democrats are hypocritically accusing Republicans of "politicizing the war," even as their presidential aspirants embark on that very path.

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