This new article in the Weekly Standard by Stephen
F. Hayes (“Democrats
for Regime Change“) is getting a lot of attention by tarring Democrats as
hypocrites on Iraq. Hayes takes us back to February 1998 when President Clinton
was ratcheting up pressure for military action against Iraq in the then-on-going
struggle over inspections. He quotes the then-president extensively on the
necessity of acting. And he quotes Democrats like Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and
John Kerry supporting the president and echoing his argument for action —
including military action — against Iraq.
Hayes’ argument — first implicit, later explicit — is obvious: what else
beside partisanship would be preventing Democrats from endorsing the case
against Saddam and the need for military action now when they did so so
fulsomely four years ago?
The argument reads well. But it sets the Standard in a two-against-one
battle against logic and the its own editorial line.
After all, just what sort of military action was being discussed? And with
what aim? Even the most skittish Democrats today are full of talk about the
necessity of confronting Iraq, the dangers of WMD, and so forth. But Hayes’
argument only makes sense if what Democrats were inclined to endorse four years
ago is at all similar to what they’re hesitant to endorse today. But, of course,
it’s not. The entire discussion Hayes references refers to military action, but
not the forcible overthrow of the Iraqi regime through military force.
Who says so? Why, the Weekly Standard. And virtually every other
Republican politician and certainly every conservative publication. The conceit
of Bush administration policy on Iraq is that it’s fundamentally different from
Clinton administration policy — which is, by and large, true. At just the time
Bill Clinton and the sundry Democrats Hayes’ quotes were making their statements
the Standard said, succinctly enough, that “Containment is the strategy
this administration has chosen.” (Weekly Standard, Editorial, March 2,
1998) In other words, the policy then on offer was fundamentally different from
what’s now being discussed. Supporting that one then and not supporting this one
today means nothing.
Perhaps Clinton’s policy was the wrong one. Pains me as it does to say, by
the end of the second term I don’t think the Clinton administration had a
coherent policy on Iraq. But the logic of Hayes’ argument collapses at the
simple level of a mistaken apples and oranges comparison.