- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

It is fascinating how quickly the political battle lines are shifting on whether to oust Saddam Hussein from power and rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
Not too long ago, most Democratic leaders were criticizing President Bush's intentions to topple Saddam, saying Mr. Bush had not yet made a persuasive case. Some criticized him for being a unilateralist who was unwilling to seek the approval of the United Nations, let alone Congress.
Then Mr. Bush did several things in rapid-fire succession, almost as if the entire sequence of events were choreographed from the beginning.
The White House maintained Mr. Bush had full authority to commit troops in the war on terrorism and did not need additional approval from Congress. Democrats howled in protest. But then Mr. Bush agreed that something as serious as going to war should be fully debated, asking leaders of both houses of Congress to vote on a resolution of approval as soon as possible.
Democratic critics were caught off-guard by Mr. Bush's turnaround. They did not relish the idea of spending weeks debating an issue that played to Mr. Bush's strengths and blunted their own issues.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden and others said that if there was a vote on a war resolution, it should come after Election Day. The White House rejected that notion and as the debate heated up, Mr. Daschle, Mr. Biden and others agreed the vote should come sooner than that.
Then Mr. Bush delivered several tough speeches, detailing why military force was necessary to rid the Middle East of a man who was building an arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, working on acquiring nuclear weapons, and supported and harbored terrorists. The president sent his top defense and intelligence advisers to Capitol Hill to reinforce his case.
Before long, even his strongest critics began changing their tunes. Mr. Daschle, for example, said, "Every time the president speaks out, he strengthens his case. I don't think that the case for a pre-emptive attack has been made conclusively, yet. That doesn't mean it can't be made." This was in sharp contrast to the Mr. Daschle who, a few weeks before, did not see any reason to take military action against Iraq. "What has changed in recent months or years" to go to war against Iraq now? he had asked.
As for the Democrats' criticism that Mr. Bush was a foreign-policy unilateralist who thumbed his nose at the United Nations, his appearance at the U.N. General Assembly where he delivered a tough speech challenging the world body to stop letting Saddam off the hook dramatically defused that charge, too.
Suddenly, he was seeking the United Nations' support for his policy while giving them one more shot at weapons inspections. Secretary of State Colin Powell was working on a resolution with Great Britain that would give Saddam a tight deadline. Mr. Bush was on the phone to major world leaders seeking their support. No one was criticizing Mr. Bush for a go-alone policy on Iraq anymore.
Not all Democrats were touting the antiwar line. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, one of Saddam's toughest foes in the Senate, was on board with Mr. Bush on this one, bringing his centrist Democratic allies along with him behind a resolution approving military force against Iraq.
Mr. Daschle, Mr. Biden and others have suggested Mr. Bush is playing politics with Iraq in the midst of the midterm election campaigns when the Democrats want to focus on issues like prescription drugs, Social Security, the lackluster economy and the declining stock market.
But a much stronger case can be made that it is the Democrats who have long played to a political double standard toward Saddam's menacing presence in the Middle East and his unending arms buildup.
In 1991, after Saddam seized Kuwait and was threatening Saudi Arabia, Democratic leaders argued for imposing economic sanctions on him, the equivalent of a wrist slap.
These were the very same Democrats who were fiercely beating the war drums in 1998 to bomb Saddam into oblivion, and who sponsored a resolution to give President Clinton carte blanche approval "to take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs." If these words sound familiar, it is because they are echoed in the language being drafted now by Republicans and the administration to give Mr. Bush the same authority the Democrats wanted to give Mr. Clinton.
When the roll call is taken in the Senate, it will be very interesting to see whether Mr. Daschle and his allies vote yea or nay this time around.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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