We have clearly entered a new phase of our involvement in Iraq — public opinion is turning against the administration and the president will be devoting a good bit of his time trying to convince the American public that our policy should not change. This is the right time to take a close look at myths and realities about Iraq.
I approach this subject as a Democrat who voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein (search) on two separate occasions: In 1991 when Bush 41 was president and in 2002 when Bush 43 sought congressional approval to launch the current military campaign.
Myth: Saddam Hussein was a part of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Reality: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), in one of his last interviews before leaving office, made it clear that Saddam was not involved in Sept. 11. Additionally, we thoroughly searched Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and could not find any. The administration is now justifying our involvement in Iraq on the basis of nation-building (democratization) — something President Bush derided during the 2000 campaign.
Myth: We did not need a large occupying force after initial combat. Vice President Dick Cheney (search) said on NBC's "Meet the Press" in March of 2003 that it was inaccurate to say that we would need several hundred thousand troops in Iraq after military operations ceased. "I think that's an overstatement," he said.
Reality: Former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki had told Congress that we would need a force of at least 200,000 to occupy Iraq. Gen. Shinseki, who had been responsible for our successful peacekeeping effort in Bosnia, was correct. By not committing enough troops to Iraq, we were unable to seal the borders and this made it possible for foreign terrorists to enter the country and help launch the current waves of attacks against our military.
Myth: Democrats have not supported the War on Terror.
Reality: Democrats first proposed the new Department of Homeland Security and strongly supported our efforts against terrorists in Afghanistan, where Usama bin Laden was believed to be hiding after Sept. 11. A significant number of Democrats voted to authorize force against Saddam, and Democrats have overwhelmingly voted to fund our efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Myth: There is a partisan divide over our policy in Iraq, with Democrats opposing the president and Republicans supporting him.
Reality: A number of Democrats have raised questions about whether the administration has a clear plan for future involvement in Iraq, but leading Democrats are not calling for unconditional withdrawal.
For example, former President Clinton has opposed a hard-and-fast timetable for withdrawal. And now some Republicans are raising serious questions about the wisdom of Bush's approach. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has called for a specific timetable for withdrawal, starting in October of 2006. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., has said, "the White House is completely disconnected from reality" about Iraq. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has added that he is not as optimistic as the White House about our current progress in Iraq.
Where does all of this leave us today? There is no question that Saddam was a tyrant and that the Middle East is better off with him no longer in power. Also, a democratic Iraq could have a real impact on the future of the entire Middle East. If nation-building (democratization) had been the administration's real objective from the beginning, it should have leveled with the American public at the outset rather than relying on now-discredited claims of weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi involvement in Sept. 11.
The American public is perfectly capable of dealing with the truth. The Bush administration needs to level with the public about the difficulty of the job ahead in Iraq rather than making general statements indicating that all is well. We will stay the course in Iraq if the country is convinced that Bush has a realistic plan for the future. It's time for less myth and more reality.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.