Memo to John Edwards and Sen. Obama: Suppose There Really Were WMD?

On the issue of whether a vote for the 2002 Iraq war resolution was or was not a "mistake" at the time, I have three questions for former Democratic North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama that, for some reason, at least as far as I know, no one in the press has yet asked:

First, did you believe in October 2002 that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — at least chemical and biological weapons, and possibly the beginnings of a nuclear program?

If the answer is yes (which I am assuming, since virtually everyone else did, including the majority of Senate Democrats who voted for the war resolution), then the second question is:

Do you still say it would have been a mistake to vote for the authorization even if you believed that Saddam in fact had WMD?

If the answer to that question is yes — and that appears to be the case as of now — then the third question must be asked and answered:

What would you have done to cause Saddam to dismantle and give up the WMD, once and for all?

A realistic, concrete answer is called for — especially because Mr. Edwards implicitly, if not explicitly, has criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for not stating she made a "mistake" in voting for the resolution. (Sen. Obama, it must be said, has not taken any shots directly at Sen. Clinton on this issue — as contrasted to John Edwards, although he reminds audiences that he was opposed to the war resolution, albeit while he was an Illinois state, not U.S., Senator.)

If their answer is to keep the UN inspection in place and do not worry about Saddam's ability to hide the WMD in a hole in the desert or sell them to al Qaeda, then they should at least admit that that is a fairly major gamble in the case they turn out to be wrong. And they should at least concede to someone else making the good-faith judgment that Saddam needed to be taken out to avoid this danger. To repeat — a majority of U.S. Democratic senators made the same judgment, and only two — Sens. Edwards and John Kerry (D-Mass.) — have said their vote was a "mistake" — but without being forced to answer these three follow-up questions.

It isn't really credible for Mr. Edwards and Sen. Obama to say now that they never believed Saddam had WMD back then. That must be deemed wisdom gained by hindsight — since neither one said so at the time (Obama as a state senator not facing the reality of having to cast the October 2002 Senate war authorization vote and John Edwards voting for it).

They can't duck these questions if they are allowing (or encouraging) the anti-war Democratic electorate to pressure candidates to admit they made a "mistake."

Although I am an ardent Iraq war critic and from the earliest days had serious doubts about granting the president discretionary authority to go to preemptive war in October 2002, I believe Sen. Clinton (whom I am supporting for president) has shown integrity and courage in refusing to pander to state that the vote at the time was a "mistake" — given the information and belief she had concerning Saddam's WMD AND the clear conditions she set in her Senate speech explaining her vote. First she stated her belief that Saddam had WMD and was ready to use them.

"It is clear ... that if left unchecked," she said on the Senate floor, "Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."

Second, she said she trusted President Bush to comply with two understandings about his use of the authorization power — that he wouldn't "rush to war" without allies and international support and that he would go to war only as a "last resort."

As she said on the Senate floor prior to her vote:

"A vote for the [the resolution] is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president and we say to him: Use these powers wisely and as a last resort ... "

If she (and a majority of her Democratic senatorial colleagues) made a mistake, it was not the vote to authorize, based as it was on a belief in Saddam's WMD, but in trusting President Bush to comply with both of those understandings.

When she was in New Hampshire several weeks ago she stated, now with the benefit of hindsight, that she would not have voted for the resolution had she known then what she knows now — indeed, she notes that there would have been no vote at all, meaning the Democrats would and could have blocked a vote.

So the next time Mr. Edwards and Sen. Obama are in New Hampshire, the same questioner who insisted on Sen. Clinton admitting to the vote as a "mistake" in fairness should ask them these three questions.

The irony here is that Sen. Clinton is often criticized for seeming to be too calculating and opportunistic in taking positions on issues. Yet here she is standing on the truth and the facts known at the time, and refusing to pander and rewrite history.

Will Sen. Obama and Mr. Edwards at leaat grant her position as one of consistency, taken in good faith?