Democrats singing different Iraq tune
By Donald Lambro
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Democratic leaders who question President Bush's war-making plans to oust Saddam Hussein from power were aggressively urging President Clinton to take "all necessary and appropriate" military action to deal with Iraq in 1998.
When Saddam was defying access by U.N. weapons inspectors, Democrats were enthusiastically defending Mr. Clinton's decision to bomb Iraq in the midst of House impeachment proceedings against him in December 1998. Earlier that year, Mr. Clinton was warning of the dangers that Iraq posed to the United States and its allies, making a case that is very similar to Mr. Bush's justifications for military action now.
"If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow. Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal," Mr. Clinton said on Feb. 18, 1998, in a major foreign policy address at the Pentagon that had Democrats rallying behind him.
Copies of Mr. Clinton's speech were being sent to Mr. Bush's Democratic critics in Congress last week, a White House official said Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who has been saying that Mr. Bush has yet to make a convincing case for military action at this time, asks, "What has changed in recent months or years" to go to war against Iraq now?
But in 1998, Mr. Daschle was beating the war drums in the Senate and co-sponsoring a war resolution that urged Mr. Clinton "to take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs."
That resolution was co-sponsored by some Democrats who are now voicing criticisms or at least doubts about Mr. Bush's war plans, including Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
In defense of the resolution, Mr. Daschle said it would "send as clear a message as possible that we are going to force, one way or another, diplomatically or militarily, Iraq to comply with their own agreements and with international law."
Explaining the Clinton administration's arguments for military action at that time, Mr. Daschle said at a news conference on Feb. 11, 1998, "Look, we have exhausted virtually all our diplomatic effort to get the Iraqis to comply with their own agreements and with international law. Given that, what other option is there but to force them to do so? That's what they're saying. This is the key question. And the answer is we don't have another option. We have got to force them to comply militarily."
Mr. Daschle now says that Mr. Bush "strengthened his case" in his Thursday address to the United Nations, but he remains dubious about much of Mr. Bush's plans for war against Iraq. "What will be the reaction of the international community? What will be the degree of support within the United Nations? We're not prepared to make any commitment until we've had more of an opportunity to answer these questions," he told reporters Thursday.
"Matters looked different in 1998, when Democrats were working with a president of their own party," writes Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard magazine, which dug up some of the statements made by Mr. Daschle and other Senate Democrats at the time Mr. Clinton was contemplating military action against Iraq.
A fuller examination by The Washington Times of the Democrats' rhetoric on Iraq at that time shows many Democrats were far more hawkish-sounding about Iraq than they are now.
"The U.S. should strike, strike hard and strike decisively. In this instance, the administration needs to act sooner rather than later," Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said on Nov. 14, 1998.
Last week, though, Mr. Byrd was sounding a lot more ecumenical toward Iraq. "We stand today in the swirl of unanswered questions about this administration's intent with regard to an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack against the sovereign nation of Iraq," he said.
"Perhaps the White House has the answers to the questions people are asking about why we may soon send our sons and daughters to fight and perhaps die in the sands of the Middle East," Mr. Byrd said.
"I agree with using military force," Mr. Dodd said on Feb. 3, 1998. Late last month, however, he was singing a different tune. Mr. Bush's plans for unilateral action against Iraq "raises some red flags. The military option should never be taken off the table, but it should not necessarily always be the first or only option we have," he said.
Mr. Kerry said on Feb. 23, 1998, that Iraq's weapons buildup was "a threat to the stability of the Middle East. It is a threat with respect to the potential activities on a global basis."
But on Sept. 6, writing in an op-ed column in the New York Times, Mr. Kerry softened his tone, saying "regime change by itself is not a justification for going to war."
"Dodd, Daschle and many other Democrats were all much more hawkish about Iraq back then. They were really leading the charge in 1998, but they have certainly been more restrained in their enthusiasm this time around," Mr. Hayes said.