WASHINGTON – Democrats are expressing reluctance and sometimes outright opposition to President Bush's plans for action against Iraq, even though they were on board with former President Clinton's plans to attack the rogue nation four years ago.
"His regime threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us," Clinton said in February 1998. "Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act.
"I know the people we may call upon in uniform are ready. The American people have to be ready as well," he added.
The words came within weeks of Senate Concurrent Resolution 71, co-sponsored by Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and a dozen other Democrats.
The resolution condemned "in the strongest possible terms" Iraq's continued threat to international peace and security, and urged then-President Clinton to "take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end it's weapons of mass destruction programs."
Among the Democratic co-sponsors were Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Max Cleland of Georgia, Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, Bob Graham of Florida and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
These days, they and other Democrats express doubt and reluctance to use force, but four years ago, Democrats in the House and Senate got downright hawkish, advocating an attack if Saddam Hussein did not comply with every detail of all the United Nations' weapons sanctions.
"If not, it's back to business. It is the use of force. It is a swift response militarily and by whatever other means may be necessary," Daschle said in a speech in late February 1998.
"I think that it is going to have to be more than a mere thump, as we say in Missouri. It's going to have to be a major, major strike," said Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton.
Congress never voted on the resolution urging force because Iraqi President Saddam Hussein promised again to comply with the U.N. sanctions at the last minute. He broke that promise only a few days later when he threw the U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq altogether.
After that event four years ago, Daschle said that "if nothing changes, the use of force at some point would be inevitable."
But four days ago, Daschle sounded a different tune.
"What has changed over the course of the last 10 years that brings this country to the belief that it has to act in a pre-emptive fashion?"
What has changed by most accounts is that after four years of continued weapons development, Saddam is even more dangerous than he was when Daschle was advocating military action.
What also has changed is the resident of the White House, a Republican president, who maintains very high popularity ratings.