- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2003

Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division captured piles of top secret Iraqi intelligence documents, some of which refer to a nuclear program, in a raid on a community center in Baghdad last Saturday.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, probably wishes he had been able to a peek at the documents before he accused President Bush of intentionally misleading Americans about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee dismissed Mr. Kerry’s charge as political, and refused to join in it.

Mr. Kerry had to hope his listeners have short memories: “[Saddam Hussein] cannot be permitted to go unobserved and unimpeded toward his horrific objective of amassing a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Kerry said in a speech on the Senate floor in 1997.

In that speech — exhumed by Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Washington Times — Mr. Kerry said the U.N. should authorize a military strike on Iraq that would “materially damage … as much as possible of the suspected infrastructure for developing and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.” And if the U.N. wouldn’t go along, the U.S. should go it alone:

“While we should always seek to take significant international actions on a multilateral rather than a unilateral basis … we must have the courage to do what we believe is right and wise,” Mr. Kerry said.

Similar statements — essentially indistinguishable from what President Bush has said — were made by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. So if Americans were “intentionally misled” about WMD in Iraq, Democrats originated the plot.

Harping on this issue is strange politics, because polls indicate about two-thirds of Americans think war with Iraq was justified even if weapons of mass destruction are not found. And if they are found, Democrats have walked out on a limb that will be sawed off behind them.

If next year’s presidential election is decided on national security issues, Democrats will lose. But if the economy or some other issue is more important, Democrats still will lose, if Americans believe Democrats cannot be trusted to protect the country. When Democrats imply Saddam Hussein is more trustworthy than George W. Bush, causes swing voters to think them untrustworthy in precisely that way.

Why would Mr. Kerry — who tells people every chance he gets that he was a Vietnam veteran —risk convincing voters he can’t be trusted with America’s security?

David Brooks speculates in the Weekly Standard that hatred of Mr. Bush has unhinged Democrats, who “look like they’re turning into a domestic version of the Palestinians — a group so enraged at perceived oppressors, and so caught up in their own victimization, that they behave in ways that are patently not in their self-interest, and that are almost guaranteed to perpetuate their suffering.”

The beneficiary of Democratic feelings of impotence and rage has been Howard Dean, who has been running as the “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more” candidate.

It is concern about the former Vermont governor that is causing putative frontrunner Mr. Kerry to step into dangerous waters. Of the (more or less) serious Democratic candidates for president, all but Mr. Dean voted to authorize war with Iraq.

Polls indicate Mr. Kerry has been putting some daylight between himself and Mr. Dean in New Hampshire since the war ended. But what worries Mr. Kerry is Iowa.

The Iowa caucuses are the first major campaign event. Only about 10 percent of Iowa Democrats — chiefly the most liberal — will take part in them. Since there are so many candidates, only about a third of the votes cast are needed for victory. If Mr. Kerry cedes the Bush-haters to him, Mr. Dean probably will win … and have a strong tailwind blowing behind him going into New Hampshire.

The Iowa caucuses were put on the political map in 1972 when Sen. George McGovern made a surprisingly strong showing there against the heavy favorite, Sen. Ed Muskie. Mr. McGovern went on to make political history of another kind in the fall. Howard Dean and Iowa Democrats seem poised to make history repeat itself, whether Mr. Dean ultimately wins the nomination or not.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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