John and Michael Barone have been wondering what the Democrats are up to in focusing so heavily on the pre-war intelligence about Iraq. John notes that driving President Bush’s poll numbers down is of limited value since Bush isn’t running for president, and Republican members of Congress who voted to go to war based on incorrect intelligence are no more culpable than Democrats who did the same thing. Barone notes, correctly I think, that this line of attack is driven by the demands of the Democrats’ big contributors.
Within these themes, there may be a few sub-plots. The big donors on the left want the Democrats in Congress to demand that we abandon Iraq. Most Democratic politicians aren’t ready to go that far because the American public won’t support what the surrender option. Some of these politicians don’t want to surrender either. Others do, but are too gutless to say so, just as they were too gutless to oppose the war initially. So they attempt to pacify the left-wing base by carping about the decision to go to war, thereby avoiding the more relevant conversation about what to do going forward.
This carping serves another small purpose — it purports to exonerate the gutless Democrats who sent our soldiers to a war they didn’t really want. Although in reality they voted for the war for political purposes, by claiming that the Bush administration withheld intelligence, they can shift the blame for their cynical votes.
Finally, I disagree to some extent with John’s assessment that hammering Bush makes little sense in the context of electoral politics. Driving down an incumbent president’s popularity can only help the out-of-power party. I think the Democrats will do at least marginally better in both 2006 and 2008 if Bush is viewed unfavorably and if the Republican party is seen as the party that deceitfully took us to war in the name of WMD that didn’t exist. In any event, when a president is fighting a war that’s perceived as not going well, and a primary justification for the war hasn’t materialized, it’s asking too much of any party (and certainly the Democrats) not to make an issue out of it. The Democrats have found a low risk strategy for doing so.