Byline: James G. Lakely and Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate say they retain their right to criticize President Bush and his foreign policy during a war with Iraq, even as other Democrats promise to rally behind the president once war begins.
"In a democracy, you have to express yourself and be honest with how you see the war unfold, and, as we've seen in other times in history, wars can be controversial," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "We support strongly the troops, but there's a difference between the troops and the administration of a war."
His words echoed those made last week by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
"I think that we give [the troops] a chance to go in," Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at a briefing. "I reserve the right in the course of the war to make judgments about how it's proceeding and what it means to the American people. I certainly don't surrender my right to speak out on it."
Mrs. Pelosi made clear that on a recent trip to the Middle East she showed her "appreciation to the troops for their courage, their patriotism and the sacrifice they are willing to make" but that "part of what they fight for is freedom for us to disagree."
She cited a speech given by Sen. Robert Taft, Ohio Republican, on the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II: "Criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government."
That view stands in contrast with those of other congressional Democrats.
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, yesterday gave what he called his last speech critical of the president's diplomacy.
"It is important that our troops know that this country is behind them, regardless of what position we took relative to the importance of sticking with the U.N.," Mr. Levin said.
"They are implementing not just the order of a commander in chief, they are implementing a decision of Congress that was democratically arrived at," he said. "I may have been in the minority on that decision, but I believe fervently that those troops deserve our support."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, shared those sentiments.
"It is time to come together and support our great American men and women in uniform and their commander in chief," he said.
Asked about those who still would criticize Mr. Bush during war, Mr. Lieberman said, "Every candidate for president has to make their own judgment about what they think is appropriate here." He predicted that "once hostilities commence, we will all be united."