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Bush Suckers the Democrats

From the July 28, 2003 issue: Anatomy of a scandal that wasn't.

Jul 28, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 44 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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And the answer to these questions, adds Sen. Ted Kennedy, not to put too fine a point on it, is: no. "It's a disgrace," in the Sage of Hyannisport's expert assessment, that "the case for war seems to have been based on shoddy intelligence, hyped intelligence, and even false intelligence." There being no other conceivable case for war, so far as Kennedy is concerned, the Bush administration has therefore "undermined America's prestige and credibility in the world."

Of course, were all this true--had Bush really sent American soldiers into combat against what he knew to be an imaginary, fabricated threat--then the nation would be ripe for yet another presidential impeachment drama, maybe. Not maybe, says Florida senator Bob Graham, one of Howard Dean's many rivals in next year's Democratic primaries: "My opinion is, if the standard that was set by the House of Representatives relative to Bill Clinton is the new standard for impeachment, then this clearly comes within that standard."

Not that anyone in the Democratic party is prepared to defend Saddam's deposed regime, mind you. Or dares to propose that Iraq is worse off now that Saddam is gone. Or that America is worse off now that Saddam is gone. Or that the Middle East is worse off now that Saddam is gone. (Though Gov. Dean is agnostic on all counts.) No: The Democrats' problem is not that Bush judged Saddam a present danger. Their problem isn't even that Bush based this judgment on American intelligence estimates to that effect. How could it be, since Bill Clinton and Al Gore made the very same judgment, based explicitly on the very same intelligence estimates?

George W. Bush's one great and unforgivable sin, it seems, was to have acted on the judgment that Saddam Hussein was a present danger--acted, as Clinton and Gore repeatedly threatened but failed to do, the way a serious president must. At his moment of decision, the American people supported Bush. They support him still. And the fact of that support--as the Democrats' hysterical attack on a 16-word sentence in the State of the Union suggests--is driving one of our two major political parties...stark, raving mad.

God knows the Bush administration is not beyond criticism for either its prewar planning or its execution of postwar reconstruction efforts. And it would be a valuable contribution to our politics if such criticism were mounted by the Democratic party--acting as an intelligent, loyal opposition. But it's a free country, and if the Democrats prefer instead to act as a pathologically disgruntled lunatic fringe, then it'll be their problem more than anyone else's.

Certainly the White House won't think it a problem. That muffled sound you hear coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the sound of George W. Bush chuckling at the success of his nefarious scheme. Misunderestimated, once again.

--William Kristol