Republicans Try to Rewrite History on Iraq War Resolution

Many conservatives appear to be looking at how they will be viewed by history and are trying to cleanse their record. One of the most tragic legacies of the Bush administration was the manner in which Republicans chose to use the 9/11 attack to play politics while Democrats were seeking a united front in opposition to terrorism. In exchange for short lived electoral victories, the Republicans were willing to betray the best interests of the nation, including proceeding with a foreign policy which has proven to be disastrous with respect to our national interests.

In recent weeks I’ve noted a number of conservatives attempt to rewrite history. The most recent has been Karl Rove’s denial that the 2002 Iraq War Resolution was a political ploy of the Bush White House. While bloggers have often debunked such claims, it is good to see the mainstream media also publishing the truth, as The Washington Post does today:

Speaking on PBS’s “Charlie Rose” talk show last week, Rove said Congress pushed to have the vote before the election. “The administration was opposed to voting on it in the fall of 2002,” Rove said. Asked why, he said: “Because we didn’t think it belonged within the confines of the election. There was an election coming up within a matter of weeks. We thought it made it too political. We wanted it outside the confines of it. It seemed to make things move too fast. There were things that needed to be done to bring along allies and potential allies abroad.”

Democrats accused him of rewriting history. “Either he has a very faulty memory, or he’s not telling the truth,” said ex-Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.). In an interview, Daschle said he asked Bush during a breakfast to delay the vote until after the election. “They told us time was of the essence and they needed the vote and they were going to move forward,” he said.

Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to then-House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), said it would not benefit Democrats to vote before the elections. “That does not ring true to me,” he said of Rove’s remarks. “I can’t imagine why it would be in our interest to do that.”

Rove repeated his assertion in an interview yesterday, pointing to comments made by Democrats in 2002 that they wanted a vote. “For Democrats to suggest they didn’t want to vote on it before the election is disingenuous,” he said. The vote schedule, he said, was set by lawmakers. “We don’t control that.”

News accounts and transcripts at the time show Bush arguing against delay. Asked on Sept. 13, 2002, about Democrats who did not want to vote until after the U.N. Security Council acted, Bush said, “If I were running for office, I’m not sure how I’d explain to the American people — say, ‘Vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I’m going to wait for somebody else to act.’ ”

While some Democrats urged delay, news accounts reported that some party leaders wanted a quick vote to move the issue off the front burner and leave several weeks before the election to focus on pocketbook issues that they felt would be more advantageous. Daschle said Sept. 17 on PBS that he expected a vote “sooner rather than later.” Two days later, Bush sent a proposed resolution to Capitol Hill, saying: “We’ve got to move before the elections.”

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary at the time, said Daschle had pressed Bush over the summer to bring the matter to Congress but for consultation, not necessarily a vote. Bush decided to seek a vote authorizing force, Fleischer said. “It was definitely the Bush administration that set it in motion and determined the timing, not the Congress,” he said. “I think Karl in this instance just has his facts wrong.”

Not only was the vote a political ploy of the Bush administration, it utilized the typical Karl Rove tactic of dividing the opposition over false questions. Rather than having a vote before actually going to war, the Bush administration pushed for a resolution where there was no perfect vote. It is often forgotten that before the vote George Bush was claiming that this was not necessarily a vote to go to war.  Speaking in Cincinnati before the vote Bush said, referring to disarming Saddam, “I hope this will not require military action, but it may.” He also stated:

Later this week, the United States Congress will vote on this matter. I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America’s military, if it proves necessary, to enforce U.N. Security Council demands. Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something.

A no vote, which would have been preferred to reduce the risk of Bush going to war, would have been framed by Republicans as meaning that Democrats were not willing to authorize military force under any condition, even if the threats Bush warned of from Iraq were proven to be true. We would have been endlessly reminded that Bush was only asking for authorization to use military force as a last resort. However, when Bush ran against John Kerry, who mistakingly took Bush at his word and clearly stated he only voted for the use of force if we were proven to be threatened by WMD, these promises were ignored and the Bush campaign framed the vote as supporting the war.

If the goal was anything other than playing politics, the Bush administration could have done it right and called for a vote of Congress over the specific question of going to war based upon the evidence available just prior to its start. Of course they undoubtedly realized that getting approval to go to war at that time would have been much less likely.