|The Democrats' Iraq problem|
The capture of Saddam Hussein holds the potential to diminish the central issue of Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean's presidential campaign: President Bush's conduct of the war with Iraq. Throughout this year, the former Vermont governor has denounced the president's decision to go to war to remove Saddam from power, and at one point appeared to dismiss the idea that Saddam's ouster was a good thing for Iraqis. In April, when Saddam's regime was ousted, Mr. Dean stated, "I suppose the Iraqis are better off with Saddam Hussein gone," adding that "we should've contained him." In recent months, he has continued to attack the president's campaign to liberate Iraq as "the wrong campaign at the wrong time"and vowed to teach Mr. Bush "a lesson about defense."
While Mr. Dean has some bad ideas about the conduct of the war in Iraq, no one can accuse him of being inconsistent about putting them forward. On Sunday, Mr. Dean congratulated Mr. Bush on the news of Saddam's capture and promised to stop criticizing the president's Iraq policy for at least 24 hours. But that same day, Mr. Dean's campaign released a statement adding that it was time "to set a new course and take the American label off the war." Then yesterday Mr. Dean, delivering a foreign policy address in California, reiterated criticism of Mr. Bush for waging the "wrong war at the wrong time" by liberating Iraq from Saddam.
Mr. Dean's attacks on Mr. Bush drew fire from two of his leading opponents: Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Dick Gephardt.
As usual, Mr. Lieberman masterfully highlighted the inability of his fellow Democrats to make sense when it comes to U.S. policy on Iraq. "Howard Dean, throughout his campaign, has said he wasn't sure that Saddam really represented a threat to us," Mr. Lieberman noted on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would be in power today, not prison."
In the hours following Saddam's capture, Mr. Gephardt also contrasted his own position with that of Mr. Dean. "I supported this effort in Iraq without regard for the political consequences because it was the right thing to do," he said. "I still feel that way now, and today is a major step toward stabilizing Iraq and building a new democracy."
Mr. Lieberman's jibe also applies to Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards. Both voted in October 2002 for the resolution authorizing the United States to go to war. Unfortunately, just a few months ago, the pair voted against $87 billion in support for our troops in the field (including the ones who captured Saddam).
In short, with the notable exceptions of Messrs. Lieberman and Gephardt, all the other plausible candidates for the Democratic nomination are left defending a policy that would have saved Saddam from his well-deserved fate.