- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

Democrats are whining, it seems, over what they perceive as a deliberate and unfair White House attempt to take advantage of the war on terrorism generally and Iraq specifically for the political gain of Republican congressional and gubernatorial candidates.
The issue of whether we should go to war with Saddam Hussein's regime is not a political one, according to Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, unless someone tries to play politics with it. How's that again?
Most voters, Mr. McAuliffe says, don't really care how a candidate stands on Iraq, and will go to the polls in November on the economy, Medicare benefits, education and other domestic issues on which he claims the Bush administration has failed.
But how does one not consider the most burning concern facing the nation at this moment when deciding how to cast a vote? Isn't that like trying to ignore the elephant in the front room? And since when, one might ask, have international affairs and questions of war not been grist for the political mill? Franklin Roosevelt defeated Wendell Willkie in 1940 by pledging to keep America out of the war in Europe. Abraham Lincoln was elected because of a promise to preserve the Union.
Without evidence of an imminent threat from Saddam, Mr. McAuliffe said recently, the president should have waited to push for a war resolution from Congress until after the election, thereby rendering it a non-issue. By choosing not to, the implication clearly is that Mr. Bush's reasons for the current stance on Iraq were less than honorable, to put it charitably.
To suggest, no matter how obliquely, that this or any other president would commit the nation to a course of war for his own political gain is very dangerous ground, and Democrats should be extraordinarily careful. There is no justification for this and such charges could cause a backlash. For example, Republicans found that out when it was advanced by some that Bill Clinton's commitment of forces to Bosnia was politically motivated to take the heat off his domestic problems.
The clear fact is that the president has acceded to Democratic pleas on more than one occasion, first agreeing to seek unnecessary congressional approval for any action against Iraq and then to ask the United Nations for support before moving. Democrats literally got what they wished for, and now, as is often the case, they really don't like it.
Democratic leaders in Congress now seem to realize that the way to soften the political impact is to give the president his resolution before the election, and to do so nearly unanimously. That would have the effect of truly presenting a unified front to voters, turning it into an impotent issue for November.
There are widely differing opinions on this important issue. Every candidate should feel free to take his own position and stand or fall on that. Republicans are obviously going to campaign for the White House policy on Iraq, and if Democratic candidates feel otherwise they should express that. It does not mean they are disloyal Americans, and Republicans should never suggest that although in a few cases it seems they have. There is nothing dishonorable about questioning the advisability of war.
But the argument that it should be off-limits as a political issue is an attempt to deny voters the right to participate in the debate. A congresswoman named Jeannette Rankin was the only person in Congress to vote against the nation's entry into World War II. It ended her political career, but it was a courageous stance, nevertheless.
Democrats believe, obviously, that their opponents should not be able to capitalize on the president's popularity as a manager of the war on terrorism. They believe their best chance of winning back control of the House and strengthening their hold on the Senate is to render that aspect of the president's two years in office unworthy of consideration. Only his domestic agenda should be an issue, they contend.
That is utterly foolish and unrealistic, and they should get on with their campaigning and quit whining.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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