Democrats are playing partisan politics with Iraq

Wednesday, February 5, 2003 at 1:00am

Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi weren't terribly impressed with the case President Bush made in his State of the Union address for forcibly turning Saddam Hussein out of power.

"Before we commit the first life, the first American soldier in Iraq," said Daschle, the Senate minority leader, "we need to have more positive proof" that Saddam is seeking or developing weapons of mass destruction.

Bush "did not make a convincing case," said Pelosi, the House minority leader, "that the use of force now is the only way to disarm Iraq."

Of course, it really didn't matter what Bush had to say about regime change in Baghdad. The two Democratic leaders were determined to oppose the Republican in the White House.

But not because they believe Saddam is harmless. And not because they do not believe that Saddam is bent on acquiring or developing weapons of mass destruction.

So why, then, are the two Democratic leaders breaking rank with the president?

Because the party of Daschle and Pelosi has calculated that its best hope of regaining the congressional seats it lost this past November, of returning the White House to Democratic hands in 2004, is to drive down Bush's popularity.

And they fear nothing more, politically, than the prospect that Bush will wage a successful war against Saddam.

For if Bush turns Saddam out of power, as he turned the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, he will rise even higher in the estimation of the American people.

He not only would be a near shoo-in for a second term in the Oval Office, he almost certainly would have the same coattails he evidenced during last November's midterm election, when he stumped for Republican congressional candidates around the country.

That's why Daschle and Pelosi and their fellow Democrats want to prevent the president from taking action against Saddam.

The U.N. inspection team has not found a smoking gun to justify military action against Iraq. It has not discovered weapons of mass destruction. We should give Saddam more time to peacefully disarm. We should not move against Baghdad unless and until the U.N. Security Council confers its blessings.

But why does the United States need a so-called smoking gun to take pre-emptive action against Saddam? U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix issued a sufficiently damning indictment against the regime in Baghdad just last week.

"Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance," said Blix, "not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace."

Indeed, Saddam has been engaged the 108 U.N. weapons inspectors in "a scavenger hunt for hidden materials," said Bush, "across a country the size of California."

So why should the United States give Saddam any more time to peacefully disarm?

Yes, there are certain member nations of the Security Council that would continue inspections indefinitely, that are loath to condone war against Saddam

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