Colin Powell made a compelling case for going to war with Iraq, with or without the support of the UN Security Council. But whether we go to war sooner rather than later depends less on Powell than it does on polls.
The Secretary of State, a voice of caution when the administration first warned of action against Iraq, produced an arsenal of smoking guns in his address to the United Nations Security Council Feb. 5. No one is more schooled in war or more knowledgeable about Iraq than General Powell. Because it was him talking, not to mention the overwhelming evidence he produced, it would be hard for anyone who heard or read his speech not to be convinced that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat. But that doesn't mean they will be convinced, especially those with overriding political agendas. Or short memories. Take Tom Daschle, for instance.
The same Sen. Daschle who last October voted to authorize the president to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein decided in January he wanted more evidence. But the evidence Daschle was looking for can't be found in satellite photos or intercepted messages or eyewitness statements. It will be found in the latest CNN poll.
In a politically calculated but strangely timed pre-response to the State of the Union Address the president had not yet given, Daschle asked, "Why are we pursuing this hurry-up approach on Iraq that seems to be costing us the support of our allies?" Hurry up? It's rushing things in January, but it wasn't last October? That's when Daschle voted for the military authorization that stated: "Iraq's demonstrated capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so, and the extreme magnitude of harm that would result to the United States and its citizens from such an attack, combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself."
We might understand if Daschle had complained the president was dragging his feet. He might be more justified in asking, "Why has the president delayed action against Saddam, giving the dictator more time to build weapons of mass destruction?" And we have no doubt that would be exactly his complaint if that was the consensus of popular opinion.
But because the American people, God love 'em, have a short attention span and cooled on the war between October and January, so did the senator from South Dakota. That, to Tom Daschle, is leadership. Which may explain why the former majority leader is now the minority leader.
Daschle said the president must answer "two crucial questions on Iraq ... first, does Saddam Hussein pose a threat to our national security so imminent that it justifies putting American lives at risk to get rid of him?" (Answer: Yes, he poses at least as much of a threat today as you knew he did back in October.)
"And second," Daschle asked, "how are our efforts to deal with this threat helped by short-circuiting an inspections process we demanded in the first place?" We should postpone war because it might interfere with inspections? That's like telling the Union to postpone war because it might interfere with the Underground Railroad.
A reminder to Tom Daschle and all the amateur pundits standing around the office water cooler: the inspectors are not in Iraq looking for evidence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations determined long ago that he does. The inspectors are there to give the Iraqi leader an opportunity to save his sorry hide by proving he has destroyed those weapons and is no longer manufacturing them.
The military authorization that passed both house of Congress by overwhelming margins (with Daschle's politically calculated, pre-election vote) stated: "Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations."
It should not fool anyone, leastwise the Senate Democratic leader, that now the Iraqis are pretending they never had biological weapons (of the sort they used to wipe out villages of neighboring Kurds), pretending they have no plans to build nuclear weapons, pretending to have no connection to terrorist organizations.
Saddam is putting his faith in American gullibility. Judging from the comments of Tom Daschle, Saddam's faith is well placed.
So what is Daschle saying now -- after Powell's speech? Without waiting sufficient time to see how it played across America he boldly stepped forward to call the presentation a "powerful, methodical and compelling case that puts the onus on Saddam Hussein now." Well, now, who was the onus on before?
But the real question: does the senator think Powell made the case for war? Absolutely. Almost. Definitely. Sort of. Daschle said the UN inspections should continue but -- and take this as a warning, Saddam -- "not indefinitely." Does he know how to strike fear in the enemy, or what?
Daschle, in an ongoing effort to find just the approach that will resonate with the public, says it's a matter of priority. In one of his earlier incarnations -- we're not sure which -- the senator pointed out it is terrorism, not Iraq, that most threatens us: "We can't afford to forget the terrorist threat. If we want to stop a terrorist nuclear attack on the United States, we have to intercept it before it gets to our shores." Nevermind this is the same Daschle who opposes the president's proposed missile defense shield. What does he think this war is all about?
The Sept. 11 terror attacks were carried out by a clandestine terror organization, one of many such groups now known to have found support from and safe haven in Iraq, a regime whose brutality complements their own ruthlessness. The best chance we have of thwarting another Sept. 11 is to shut down the regime that harbors them.
Remember last September when Daschle got his panties in a twist because the president suggested the Senate was "not interested in the security of the American people"? Other Democratic senators, like Joe Lieberman, didn't notice the president had insulted them, but Daschle's trained ear picked it up right away.
"He ought to apologize to the American people," the senator whined. "That is wrong. We ought not politicize this war. We ought not politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death." Daschle should listen to his own words.
Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said, "We have said all along that if Iraq does not disarm itself, we will do so by force. We now have the proof that Iraq will not do so peacefully."
What is so clear to Bond and to any American who read Powell's speech seems to elude Daschle who is still trying to see how to play it for political advantage. War transcends party politics. For the sake of American security, it's time Tom Daschle figured that out.