- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

Presidential candidates have been shamelessly pandering to a strong streak of antiwar pacifism in the Democratic Party’s political base over the past year. But have months of political attacks by the antiwar Democrats achieved any gains for their party in this election cycle?

True, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, have tried stake out tougher national security credentials and, indeed, voted for Congress’ Iraq war resolution. But now even they have been catering to the antiwar cries of their party’s liberal grass-roots activists, who have catapulted former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to the head of the pack.

Mr. Dean says he is now “convinced more than ever” the war was a mistake and has expressed what the public has interpreted as his doubts about whether the Iraqis are better off with Saddam Hussein removed from power.

Doubt they’re better off? Tens of thousands of Iraqis and Kurds whose family members were imprisoned, tortured, slaughtered and dumped into mass graves would disagree.

Desperately trying to play catch-up to Mr. Dean in New Hampshire, Mr. Kerry has been backpedaling on his own war vote, saying he only wanted to “threaten the use of force,” not actually go to war right away. He wanted to give Saddam more time to comply with the U.N. resolution, which demanded he give up his weapons of mass destruction. (Yeah, and give him more time to secretly destroy or bury his weapons and help the terrorists encamped in northern Iraq under his protection.)

Then there’s retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who some Dems saw as that party’s savior. Mr. Clark once praised President Bush’s military policies, but now says he “would never have voted for war. The war was unnecessary, it was an elective war, and it’s been a huge, strategic mistake for this country.”

The other candidates have been similarly bashing Mr. Bush’s doctrine of taking pre-emptive military action against terrorist-harboring countries to eliminate the threat they pose to U.S. security. Incredibly, they say such a policy is a destabilizing action that actually makes us less safe.

“It’s going to cause some serious trouble down the line,” says Mr. Dean. Not from Afghanistan or Iraq. They’re not going to threaten anyone anymore.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards says he is outraged Mr. Bush “asserted a new doctrine that suggests a uniquely American right to use force wherever and whenever we decide it’s appropriate. The result has been distracting and damaging.”

Well, yes, it’s certainly damaging to the al Qaeda and Taliban forces that ruled Afghanistan and the terrorists who worked out of training camps in Iraq. Is Mr. Edwards saying we shouldn’t have the right to take pre-emptive action to thwart terrorists when it is “appropriate”?

This is not the first time, of course, that Democratic leaders have been willing to pander to their party’s grass-roots antiwar forces for political gain.

During the debate before the first Persian Gulf war, Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell and many in his party were urging the first President Bush to give the economic sanctions more time to gently persuade Saddam to withdraw his forces from Kuwait.

If we had listened to Mr. Mitchell and his ilk then, Saddam Hussein would have remained in control of the oil-rich kingdom, his forces would still be raping and butchering Kuwaitis, and he would have had new resources to go after Saudi Arabia.

Then-Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, the Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee, bought Mr. Mitchell’s antiwar plea and voted against the war resolution, but said sometime later it was “the worst mistake I ever made.”

Certainly, the polls on how Mr. Bush has handled the situation in Iraq have been eroded to slightly more than 50 percent. But a majority of Americans still seem to be lined up behind his decision to bring down a very dangerous regime and install a free and independent democracy in the center of the Middle East.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll found last week that after weighing all the costs to the United States, 54 percent of Americans still say “the war with Iraq was worth fighting,” while 44 percent said it was not. A recent Newsweek poll found 56 percent said it was the right thing to do, while 37 percent said it was not.

When the voters go to the polls next year, one of the key issues they will have to consider is whose policies will keep America safer from the terrorist threat. The policy that says the best defense is a good offense? Or the policy that says let’s keep debating this in the United Nations, let’s put them in charge, or, as Mr. Kerry proposes, “threaten them” but don’t “rush into war.”

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

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