- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's bitter attack on President Bush's handling of the Iraq conflict, just as U.S. forces were heading into war, hit a new low in partisan politics.
Playing politics domestically was once off-limits when our country was poised to plunge into battle. By publicly supporting your president, your nation and your military even when you privately disagreed with their actions you helped foster a unified front, prevent delays or distractions that could cost lives and contribute to getting the troops back that much sooner.
Politicking during wartime was an unwritten, understood taboo because, to the rest of the world, we must be a truly united state during times of crisis.
After Mr. Bush announced last week that the long period of diplomacy to get Saddam Hussein to disarm was over, Mr. Daschle fired an angry anti-war missile at him, just as American forces massed along the Kuwaiti border ready to end Saddam's evil regime.
"I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country," Mr. Daschle said at a political event.
His charges escape logic: If we had continued the U.N. inspections ad infinitum, as he and his counterpart in the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, wanted to do, untold numbers of innocent Iraqis would have perished as Saddam continued his already documented butchery and campaign of oppression. He would have been stronger and more entrenched than ever.
And why does Mr. Daschle blame the United States for so-called diplomatic failures, but not France, Germany and Russia, all of whom are up to their eyeballs in business dealings with Iraq and may have added considerable leverage to the case against Saddam Hussein? Looks like at least where Mr. Daschle and Mrs. Pelosi are concerned that the "blame America first" Democrats of the 1970s are back.
Mr. Daschle's outburst triggered an angry response from the usually placid House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who said the senator's remarks "may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."
In fact, Mr. Daschle's harsh political broadside was out of step with party leaders outside of Washington who wanted a united front over the war. About a dozen Democratic state chairmen and party leaders around the country, interviewed the day after Mr. Daschle's remarks, opposed the war, but said that once hostilities were imminent, they must close ranks behind the war effort.
"When you have your people going to war, you have to support them," said New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Kathleen Sullivan. "We had the debate and now we are in a different situation. I have serious reservations about this war, but every American believes we should get in there, do the job and get out of there."
As Mr. Daschle battled the president on Iraq last week, the Democratic Leadership Council was advising the rest of the party "to rise above the partisan fray and avoid letting their anger … distract them from the national interest in winning this war.
"Now is the time for Americans to unite in support of the president and our troops," a DLC spokesman said at the beginning of last week "The time is over for recriminations."
Former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta faults his party for not fashioning a stronger alternative to deal with Iraq.
"The Democrats would have done better if we had spoken with a stronger voice and had developed a coherent position about what should have taken place with regard to [Saddam] Hussein," Mr. Panetta told me. "That message was never clear and Democrats were viewed as being totally against the war or at least ambivalent."
Yet the party's top-tier presidential candidates (albeit with some caveats) have backed Mr. Bush's war plans to topple Saddam. Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman were all in Mr. Bush's corner on this months ago.
"Bush is a Republican. I'm a Democrat," Mr. Lieberman said last week. "In fact, I'm seeking the office he holds. But at this moment there's not an inch of distance between us."
Such an unholy alliance on the war could pose huge problems for the top-tier candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire where "the prototypical Democratic primary voters are very opposed to the war," says pollster John Zogby. That could open the way for a dark horse candidate like Howard Dean, the feisty former Vermont governor who is the strongest anti-war candidate in the pack.
Several weeks ago the DLC lectured Democrats about the dangers of resurrecting "the ghost of Democrats past," warning that they were being seen as the party that "cared about national security … too little."
Last week Mr. Daschle was beating the anti-war drums, but saying nothing about national security. Americans weren't fooled: Polls showed 70 percent of the nation supported Mr. Bush's war to rid the world of a very dangerous guy.

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

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