crossposted at DailyKos

As public opinion marches steadily toward opposition to the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s manipulations that got us into it, the Democrats stumble slowly behind.  The problem is not simply the lack of nerve shown most recently in the sorry backtracking from Dick Durbin’s entirely reasonable statement on prisoner abuse.  

The Democratic Party remains divided on the Iraq War, between hawks who are in favor of adventures like Iraq, so long as they are competently planned and performed, and doves who oppose such wars in principle.  Despite all the awful news about Iraq in the last week, the hawks seem, if anything, newly emboldened.  Presidential contender Joe Biden gave a speech at the Brookings Institution outlining his aggressive plans to finally win the war in Iraq.    And the Democratic radio address today was delivered by Zbigniew Brzezinski, famous Cold War hawk, who similarly emphasized not that the war was wrong, but that it was incompetently carried out.
But the Democrats’ problems in leading on Iraq also go  beyond the hawks’ obsessions with power projection. Back in 2002, many Democrats sold their souls in the Iraq War Resolution (IWR) vote.  Until Democrats who voted “yes” on IWR truly own up to their mistake, the party’s voice on Iraq is sure to be muddled at best, even if the true hawks are marginalized.  

Kerry and others like him who voted “yes” on the IWR have maintained ever since that they were fooled by misleading intelligence.  They’ve also emphasized that their “yes” votes were designed to empower the administration to go to the UN in order to prevent war.  These excuses haven’t really worked well politically. And, frankly, they just don’t stand the smell test. However, largely because Democrats were busy circling the wagons during last year’s presidential campaign, the continued refusal of the “yes” voters to own up to their mistake has not been sufficiently commented on.

I hope that will soon change. In the July 14, 2005, New York Review of Books, Mark Danner, whose coverage of torture and the war have been unsurpassed, writes a long response to a short letter from Knight Ridder Washington Bureau Chief John Walcott. (This exchange can be found here.  I believe all of Danner’s war coverage is available on the NYRB‘s website, free of charge.)

In his response to Walcott, Danner discusses the pressing question of who knew what when about Iraq. Here’s what he has to say about Democrats around the time of the IWR vote (emphasis added):

Many in Congress, including many leading Democrats who voted to give the President the authority to go to war — fearing the political consequences of opposing him — and thus welcomed his soothing arguments that such a vote would enable him to avoid war rather than to undertake it, now find themselves in an especially difficult position, claiming, as Senator John Kerry did during the presidential campaign, that they were “misled” into supporting a war that they believed they were voting to help prevent.  This argument is embarassingly thin but it remains morally incriminating enough to go on confusing and corrupting a nascent public debate on Iraq that is sure to become more difficult and painful.

Danner is precisely correct.  The Democrats who’ve been peddling the notion that they did not know what they were doing in October 2002, need to drop the subterfuge and come clean.  There are really two plausible reasons that they might have voted “yes.” First, they were in favor of this war, as a number of Democratic hawks clearly were.  If they felt, and still feel, that what we needed was a “smarter” Iraq War, they should say as much. And the anti-war American majority should take these folks just as seriously as we take the Republican members of the war party.  Second, some Democrats undoubtedly voted for the IWR out of cynical political calculation.  It is now time for these folks to come clean and apologize, clearly and simply, to the American people.  

Would such an apology help them politically?  Perhaps not as individuals.  But it will help the country immeasurably. As Danner suggests, the absurd idea that the administration was trying to avoid war in the fall of 2002 continues to directly interfere with an honest discussion of how we got into this mess.  No serious person in Washington in October 2002 believed that the administration was trying to avoid war.  

Nearly three years after the IWR, after countless American torture sessions, thousands of U.S. casualties, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and no end in sight, too many Democrats continue to play politics with Iraq.  Though I don’t expect them to do so (I’m a Green, after all), wouldn’t it be nice if those many Democrats who have still refused to clearly oppose this war would come clean with the American people, so that they might be in a better position to demand that this incredibly corrupt and mendacious administration be brought before the bar of justice?

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