Saturday, November 12, 2005

Congress Got Rolled

The Congress got rolled in the fall of 2002, and anybody who was paying attention could see it coming.

You didn't have to be an especially astute observer of politics to realize that the Bush administration's steady push toward war was on a course calculated to intersect with that fall's midterm elections. And so it came to pass that the Congress, in a rush to get out of town for last-minute campaigning, authorized the use of force against Iraq.

Two factors weighed heavily in the Congress's capitulation. With midterm elections looming, a candidate who voted against the President's request ran the risk of being painted as soft on terrorism. The safe vote was to run with the herd, and to give the President what he wanted. But just as important, the impending elections guaranteed that there would not be time to conduct a sane and reasoned debate. Rove & company's political manipulation was no less masterful for being so obvious.

Why dredge this muck three years after the fact? Current circumstances (war weariness, Bush weariness, the Valerie Plame Wilson fiasco, and others) have conspired to resurrect the debate on the administraton's selling of the war. It's a debate we need to have; to frame that debate we require a clear understanding of what transpired in 2002 and early 2003.

Many congressional Democrats who are now criticizing the war, and particularly the misuse of intelligence employed to sell it, took the feeble path of least resistance in 2002. Although the political forces that I have described were significant, it must nevertheless be said that these feckless senators and representatives did not distinguish themselves with honor. Their malleability in the administration's hands, and their failure to mount effective oversight of the President's war ambitions, have done the country a great disservice. They should now own up to their mistake.

Congressional failures notwithstanding, the President is wrong when he implies, as he has always done, that the Congress and the administration shared a common understanding of the nature of the Iraqi threat. He said it again in his Veterans Day speech on Friday: "That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power." Punching back at his critics, Mr. Bush accused them of trying to "rewrite the history of how that war began."

It is the President, in fact, who has repeatedly tried to rewrite history. His well worn claim that the Congress had access to the "same intelligence" as the administration is demonstrably wrong. That will be the topic of my next installment.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved