The key is to jump on the offensive, immediately presenting the choices as they actually exist. The problem with the Iraq war isn't what it did to Saddam. Indeed, at this point, that's probably the war's one unambiguously good consequence. The problem with the Iraq war, as The Atlantic's James Fallows (among others) has recently written, is the opportunity cost--all the things that didn't happen because the Bush administration was so focused on Saddam.I don't know if this will work or not. It might just sound like more flip-flopping, I don't know. But it's on the right track. In an ideal world, the Democratic candidate would say something like this:
Here's how I would have handled things. In the fall of 2002, we had Saddam Hussein pinned down. The inspectors were swarming around in Iraq, the Security Council had made a renewed commitment to sanctions, and Iraq was no longer an immediate threat. At that point I would have kept pressure on Iraq, but would have also focused on more immediate threats. I would have used our political and military resources to hunt down remaining members of al Qaeda and to secure Afghanistan. I would have spent energy using diplomacy and the threat of military force to disarm Iran and North Korea. I would have used our international prestige to push heavily for political solutions in both Israel, the Kashmir, and Chechnya. When all that was done, and the immediate threats to national security were resolved, then I would have turned my attention to Saddam Hussein, who was in fact a long-term threat to regional stability, but not an immediate threat. And if it came down to invading Iraq, I would have made sure we were fully prepared to occupy Iraq and win the peace, without any distractions in Iran or Afghanistan or elsewhere.Besides having the virtue of being the policy I agree with, this seems politically airtight. The key is to indicate that Saddam Hussein was a threat (which, long-term, he may have been), but that we had him pinned down in late 2002, and had other, more pressing issues to resolve.