Tom Daschle’s attack on President Bush’s Iraq policy on the eve of war and long after the Congress had voted to authorize the president to launch the war was shocking and without precedent. A hundred years from now, it will be remembered as an act of complete political selfishness and a low point in American politics.

There is simply no parallel in American history for Daschle’s web of half-truths, wild charges and bitter recriminations. He is the leader of the Democrats and his party, which cowered from such charges before the election and now embraces and popularizes them. Daschle delivered his remarks on the very day that even a U.N. bureaucrat like Hans Blix was obliged to concede that Saddam was not complying with the U.N.’s demands, and on the day that even the softest of the European states had begun to harden. Tom Daschle revealed himself as the very last appeaser. The damage he did to the national interest may have been immense.

Any hope that Saddam might spare the world this war and bolt for safer ground in Libya or elsewhere was significantly undermined by the spectacle of the leader of the nation’s opposition challenging the president’s veracity. One can only wonder what might have happened had Daschle and his European allies presented the tyrant with a united front. It is easy to see, however, how Saddam might wrongly conclude that Bush could not possibly proceed in the face of such opposition. Thank you, Sen. Daschle, for helping destroy the possibility of forcing Saddam from power without the now inevitable clash of armies.

Spouses, children, parents and friends of America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have every right to be outraged. Either Daschle’s bitterness at November’s result has blinded him, or he truly is the most limited of America’s recent political leadership figures. The carping about tax policy and the thread-bare rhetoric about class warfare are hardly offensive – just amusing and predictable. Opposition to war in the fall could even have been thought honorable, though wrong-headed. But Monday’s display was just mendacious, a low moment in the career of a limited man.

Bush’s speech will quickly eclipse Daschle’s duplicity, which is unfortunate. I would like for every American to hear the minority leader’s Monday speech played again and again. And after the liberation of Iraq, I would like for his remarks to be played not just here but for the people of Iraq. I expect that even their relief at liberation from Saddam’s despotism could not conceal their anger with Daschle and his ilk.

“The Pianist” is currently in theaters, a moving story of one man’s struggle to survive Hitler’s killing fever. There are millions in Iraq this very day desperate for the arrival of a liberating force, whether comprised just of Americans, of Americans and troops from its score of allies, or from even a reluctant coalition of U.N. participants. The horrors these troops uncover will shock – but they will not surprise! We know what we will find – all of us do, including Tom Daschle. On Monday, Tom Daschle urged that the public disregard all of the president’s many arguments about Saddam’s dangers. Daschle urged that the public ignore the great number of allies we have already assembled to join us in the war. And he urged that the public even ignore his own vote and the votes of his colleagues from only months ago.

Tom Daschle also urged that we ignore the people of Iraq, the persecuted and the imprisoned. He did so just as their collective hope of liberation was beginning to mature. He did so despite the facts already in evidence and despite the facts the vast majority of responsible foreign-policy experts believe to exist outside of the published record. He did so despite the risk Iraq poses to its neighbors. And he did so despite the desperate condition of an oppressed and tortured people. It was a craven act by a man unbalanced in his political calculations by the weight of frustrated ambition.

Democrats might someday regain majority status in one or both houses of Congress, and they might regain the presidency. But if there is any justice in the world and any sense of honor in the country, the Democrats who stood by silently this week and are thus complicit in Daschle’s attack will never be rewarded with the public’s trust again.

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