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A Unified Front?

During Bill Clinton's showdown with Saddam Tom Daschle was all for American unity. Now he's attacking George W. Bush, and his voice is carrying all the way to the Middle East.

7:20 AM, Mar 19, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Kuwait City, Kuwait

I WOKE THIS MORNING to the howling of a nasty sandstorm and flipped on the television. Instead of reports on U.S. troop movements or terrorist alerts or the weather, the number-two story on CNN International was Tom Daschle. The Senate minority leader was shown defending comments he made on Monday when he said that blame for the inevitable American casualties in the coming war lies with President Bush. And this wasn't just a fit of pique. "I stand by my statement," Daschle said Tuesday.

Which is unfortunate. "I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're forced to war," Daschle said Monday. "Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort so critical for our country."

That's a serious charge--a cause-and-effect relationship between inevitable American combat fatalities and Bush administration diplomacy. It's especially striking since that miserable failure, such as it is, means nothing more than French and Russian refusal to support the 18th U.N. Resolution demanding Saddam Hussein live up to his 1991 cease-fire obligations. And it's hypocritical in the extreme, given Daschle's own record on Iraq (see here and here and here).

He supported President Clinton on the question of force in both 1996 and 1998, never once suggesting that his fellow Democrat seek U.N. approval. He supported Clinton in both instances despite spotty international approval and coalitions much smaller than the one President Bush has put together. Clinton himself acknowledged the lack of international consensus in 1996, but justified his decision as American leadership: "Sometimes, the United States has to act alone, or at least has to act first. Sometimes we cannot let other countries have a veto on our foreign policy. . . . That's what I did; I still believe it was the right thing to do." He added, "We have learned that if you give [Saddam Hussein] an inch, he'll take a mile. We had to do something. And even though not all of our allies supported it at first, I think most of them now believe that what we did was the appropriate thing to do."

Daschle may have tried to mitigate the damage done by his offensive remarks by issuing a statement late Monday ostensibly offering support for to the troops. "If the president decides that force is the only remaining option to disarm Saddam Hussein, Democrats and Republicans will be unanimous in our strong support for our troops and for ensuring that they have all the tools and resources needed to be successful."

But he can't help himself. That flash of unity quickly gave way to a list of concerns that happen to coincide with the primary Democratic objections to a war in Iraq. "At the same time, it is also important that we remain committed to addressing our other pressing national security threats. As we prosecute the war on terrorism and confront the dangers posed by the development of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and elsewhere, the cause of peace and stability in the world can only be served with the unwavering support of the community of nations." (It might be noted here that when members of the "community of nations" have little concern for U.S. security, their "unwavering support" is irrelevant. Not to Daschle.)

Daschle's comments Monday and unwillingness to apologize yesterday provide a time-lapse view of his strategy, such as it has been, on Iraq for the past year: criticize, support, undermine. Other Democrats, like Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who unlike Daschle voted against the resolution authorizing force, have called for Republicans and Democrats to come together, unity in wartime being paramount.

With a Democrat in the White House, Daschle agreed. Kofi Annan had given Saddam Hussein yet another "last chance," declaring the Iraqi dictator a man he could "do business with." The Clinton White House accepted the deal. When Trent Lott criticized Annan--not Clinton--Daschle worried about how it would play in the Persian Gulf:

"I don't know what purpose it serves by attacking one another at this point. I mean, if ever there was a time for us to present a unified front to Iraq, this ought to be it. . . . Let's not . . . send all kinds of erroneous messages to Iraq about what kind of unity there is within the community."

Daschle's message is being heard over here. He ought to apologize. As someone once said: "If ever there was a time for us to present a unified front to Iraq, this ought to be it."

Stephen F. Hayes is staff writer at The Weekly Standard.