- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

“This war is lost,” Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, recently proclaimed.

That pessimism about Iraq is now widely shared by his Democratic colleagues. But many of these converted doves aren’t being quite honest about why they’ve radically changed their views of the war.

Most of the serious Democratic presidential candidates — Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Joe Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina — once voted, along with Mr. Reid, to authorize the war. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois did not do so. But, then, he wasn’t in the Senate at the time. Now these former supporters of Iraq find themselves under assault by a Democratic base that demands apologies. Only Mr. Edwards has said he is sorry for his vote of support.

But if the Democratic Party is now almost uniformly antiwar, it is also understandable why it can’t field a single major presidential candidate who was in Congress when it counted and tried to stop the invasion.

After all, responsible Democrats in national office had been convinced by Bill Clinton for eight years and then George W. Bush for two that Saddam’s Iraq was both a conventional and terrorist threat to the United States and its regional allies.

Most in Congress accepted that Saddam was a genocidal mass murderer. They knew he used his petrodollars to acquire dangerous weapons. And they felt his savagery was intolerable in a post-September 11, 2001, world. There was no debate that Saddam gave money to families of Palestinian suicide bombers or offered sanctuary to terrorists like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal. Few Democrats questioned whether the al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was in Kurdistan.

In other words, Democrats, like most others, wanted Saddam taken out for various reasons beyond fears of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Clinton-appointed CIA Director George Tenet supplied both Democrats and Republicans in Congress much of the intelligence they would later cite in deciding to attack Saddam.

When both congressional Democrats and Republicans cast their votes to go along with President Bush, they even crafted 23 formal causes for war. So far only the writ concerning the fear of stockpiles of WMD has in hindsight proven false.

But we no longer hear much about these various reasons the Democrats understandably supported Saddam’s removal. Instead, they now most often plead they were hoodwinked by sneaky warmongering neocons or sexed-up partisan intelligence reports. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind, especially in matters as serious as war — but the public at least deserves a sincere explanation for this radical about-face. So why not come clean about their changes of heart?

Many Democrats apparently think that claiming they were victimized by Mr. Bush and the neocons is more palatable than confessing to their own demoralization with the news from the front.

Others may fear that admitting publicly admitting a disheartened America should not or cannot finish a conflict would send a dangerous message to our enemies. So while these Democrats accuse Mr. Bush of being hardheaded and unwavering on Iraq, they are still afraid their own mea culpas would send an equally dangerous message of inconsistency abroad.

Democrats need to admit the truth: Removing a dangerous Saddam Hussein and promoting democracy in his place seemed a good idea to them in 2003-4 when the cost appeared tolerable. Now, in 2007, with more than 3,000 American lives lost in Iraq, they feel differently.

In other words, Democrats could argue that somewhere along the line — whether it was after Fallujah or the start of sectarian Sunni-Shi’ite violence — they either lost confidence in the United States’ very ability to stabilize Iraq, or felt that even if we could, it was no longer worth the tab in American blood and treasure.

That confession could, of course, be nuanced with exculpatory arguments about the mistakes of the Bush administration, such as: “Our necessary war that I voted for to remove Saddam worked; your optional one to stay on to promote democracy didn’t.”

Such an explanation of turnabout would be transparent and invite a public discussion. And it would certainly be more legitimate that the current protestations of “the neo-cons made me do it.”

With America still engaged in a tough war, that kind of excuse-making just doesn’t cut it.

Victor Davis Hanson is nationally syndicated columnist, a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and author of “A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.”

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