Published on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Both President Bush and his rival, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seem to think it was worth the 932 American lives (so far) and thousands of U.S. wounded to get one man behind bars -- Saddam Hussein.
There also are the untold thousands of Iraqis dead and wounded as well. But, as one Pentagon spokesman told me, "They don't count."
Kerry has made a colossal mistake by continuing to defend his October 2002 vote authorizing President Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Last week at the Grand Canyon, Kerry said he would have "voted to give the president the authority to go to war" even if he had known there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction -- Bush's original justification for war on Iraq.
Kerry explained that he believes a president should have the "authority" to go to war, and he voted accordingly. But he insisted that Bush subsequently misused the authority by rushing headlong into combat based on faulty intelligence about Saddam's weapons arsenal.
Kerry is mistaken on a key point. Under the U.S. Constitution, the president does not have that sole right to declare war. Despite its mindless default, that right still belongs to Congress.
Kerry has passed up several chances to distance himself from the Iraqi debacle. But instead he has left himself wide open to Bush's ridicule. What's he got left -- stem-cell research?
Bush had a field day smirking and mocking his political rival and telling the nation that he was "right" to attack Iraq, absence of weapons notwithstanding.
Bush has sarcastically told cheering Republican rallies, "After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Sen. Kerry now agrees with me."
"We did the right thing," Bush bragged. "And the world is better off for it."
The senator should have called Bush's hand months ago and laid it on the line after so much official deception. How could he say he would have voted for the 2002 war resolution after he and the whole world learned the rationale for the war was based on falsehoods?
Does Kerry realize that the U.S. invasion of Iraq without provocation violates the U.N. Charter and the Nuremberg Tribunal principles?
Kerry has a weak fallback position-- that he would have planned things differently before going to war and would have lined up more European allies. Knowing what they know now about the Bush fiasco, France and Germany are congratulating themselves for having the good sense to stay out of Iraq.
So Kerry has blown it big time, rising to Bush's bait and throwing away his ace in the hole -- Bush's shaky credibility on the profound question of war and peace.
Bush has yet to apologize for misleading the nation or to explain why he needed a war when Saddam's regime was tightly contained with sanctions, weapons inspections and U.S. patrolling of the "no-fly" zone.
Bush has no exit strategy or timetable for a troop withdrawal even under the facade of Iraqi sovereignty.
Kerry has talked about drawing down American forces and an eventual pullout.
But he could learn something from two previous wartime Republican presidential candidates who had a better take on the public pulse and won the White House.
In 1952 during the Korean War, Dwight D. Eisenhower made a campaign promise that he would "go to Korea" and end the bloodshed. He did go to Korea and the war ended with a cease-fire standoff months after his inauguration.
In 1968, Richard Nixon said he had a "plan" to end the Vietnam War and the voters, wanting peace, bought it. Nixon -- in part forced by Congress -- reduced the U.S. troop commitment to Vietnam, but U.S. forces were still there when Nixon was forced to resign from office in 1974 because of the Watergate scandal. But the war ended the following year.
These were not triumphal solutions but they did give Americans some hope of eventual escape from the two quagmires.
In 1964, a Los Angeles Times cartoon by famed Paul Conrad showed a pollster knocking on a door. A woman sticks her head out of a window and the pollster asks her voting preference: "President Johnson or Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz.?" She replies: "Who else have you got?"
That may be the fix some Americans are in again.