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Deeper into debate on Iraq
by Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe columnist
Boston Globe
January 27, 2004

THE DEBATE over America's war with Iraq is not ending. It is really just beginning, as the news out of Iraq continues to illustrate. Eight US soldiers died in weekend fighting and two helicopter crashes in Iraq. According to The New York Times, the Defense Department has identified 506 American service members who have died since the start of the war. The demand for direct elections by a powerful Shi'ite cleric is delaying the drafting of an interim constitution for Iraq; the controversy disrupts the entire timetable for a transfer of power by the United States to an Iraqi government.

And most politically damaging of all, David Kay, the former head of the US weapons search in Iraq, said he resigned because Pentagon and CIA officials no longer considered the weapons search -- America's chief justification for war -- a priority. As of the time of his resignation, Kay said, "We had found no actual large weapons stockpiles and no indication of a production process that would have produced such stockpiles."

In response, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, said: "The Iraq Survey Group's work is ongoing, and it is important that they complete their work. The truth will come out."

The truth will come out. Some of it already has.

"Ten days in, and it was about Iraq," writes Ron Suskind in "The Price of Loyalty," a book based on what appears to be meticulous note-keeping by President Bush's former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill.

An early chapter describes a meeting of Jan. 30, 2001, 10 days after Bush's inauguration, with the newly sworn in president and the principals of the National Security Council. CIA Director George Tenet brings a photograph of a factory that he says intelligence officials believe might be "a plant that produces either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture." Pressed by O'Neill for evidence, however, Tenet acknowledges there is "no confirming intelligence" as to the materials being produced.

The truth matters today, tomorrow, and on Election Day. The presidential candidate who criticized nation-building is now a president trying to build a new nation in Iraq, using the flesh and blood of American soldiers as his foundation. Face it, America: These men and women were sent on a mission that was conceived before the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Indeed, its outline was being officially sketched at least eight months before, according to O'Neill's records. It was not mission accomplished when George W. Bush made his famous landing on an aircraft carrier in May 2003, and it may not be mission accomplished for a long time.

As long as the debate over war continues, the various positions on war taken by Democrats should matter, too.

Joe Lieberman's position is clear: He voted for Bush's war, supports Bush's war now. Dennis Kucinich's position is also clear; He voted against Bush's war and wants to bring the troops home now. John Kerry and John Edwards voted for the resolution that authorized war (not for a "process," as Kerry said in Sunday night's "60 Minutes" debate) but against the money Bush sought to fund it. Howard Dean was first and strongest in voicing opposition to war; he made it a campaign issue for Democrats but he never had to actually vote. Wesley Clark's rhetoric is now strongly antiwar, but he has taken past positions, in writing, in favor of Bush's war.

The debate will continue as long as Americans die in Iraq and as long as Iraq remains unsettled. The capture of Saddam Hussein does not change that. Neither does the view that the world is better off with the Iraqi dictator out of the spider hole. The end does not justify the means.

Bush's war, now ours, seems far from over. For America, the march on Baghdad crystallizes a critical debate over foreign policy and domestic priorities. All the pledges by Democrats to refocus spending and energy on education, health care, and the environment mean little as long as the country's attention, its flesh and blood, and its money are trained on Iraq.

To take it to Bush in the upcoming election, the Democratic nominee must be willing to ask: Why did you mislead the American people, Mr. President? Why did you mislead me?

Posted: February 3, 2004


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