- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

Before leaving for Asia, President Bush gave a series of speeches countering the Democratic line that the administration “misled” the nation into war. It’s about time.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., however, isn’t buying it. “Mr. President, it won’t work this time,” he began his Tuesday column. In this case, “it” is the “shameful” way this administration shut down debate of the war before the 2002 midterm elections.

To make his point, Mr. Dionne reflects on the Golden Days of Debate under Mr. Bush’s father in the run-up to the Persian Gulf War in 1991. “The big difference between our current president and his father is that the first President Bush put off the debate over the Persian Gulf War until after the 1990 midterm elections. The result was one of [the] most substantive and honest foreign policy debates Congress has ever seen, and a unified nation,” he wrote.

Allow us to refresh Mr. Dionne’s memory.

It was on Aug. 6, 1990, when then-President George H.W. Bush deployed U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia in what was then called Operation Desert Shield — a full three months before the 1990 midterm elections. Were Mr. Bush’s motives political, as Mr. Dionne claims were his son’s efforts to rally support for a possible invasion of Iraq? Or was it because the United States couldn’t allow Saddam Hussein’s brazen act of aggression to go unchallenged?

In either case, the president’s decision triggered a lively debate in Congress just as one would expect. No less than half a dozen congressional resolutions and bills were debated between the day Saddam invaded Kuwait and when Americans went to polls. If the first President Bush even wanted to “put off the debate,” he clearly failed.

But perhaps Mr. Dionne is referring only to the debate surrounding the Persian Gulf War Resolution, which Congress passed on Jan. 12, 1991. If so, Mr. Dionne says it was this “most substantive and honest” of debates which led to a “unified nation.” The resolution passed the House 250-183 and the Senate 52-47. If Mr. Dionne’s “unified nation” reflects the country as represented by Congress, it didn’t exist. Polls did show a majority of Americans supporting the Gulf War (Gallup: 79 percent), but then Americans also supported the invasion of Iraq (62 percent). So, if he meant Americans individually, it doesn’t add anything to his argument, since apparently we were also “unified” in 2003.

At the president’s stop in Anchorage on Monday, he said, “Some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past … That is irresponsible.” Indeed it is, and no less so for sympathetic columnists who should know better.

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