As the president speaks of World War III and potential war with Iran with fevered rhetoric in a near-hysterical atmosphere, the world stands at a moment of great danger.

For Democrats as a leadership party and the Congress as a co-equal branch of government, it is a moment of truth, and recent history does not augur well.

World War III?

For the president to speak in terms of World War III is extreme, irrational and distempered, and for a Democratic Senate to pass an Iran resolution in this atmosphere of fear and frenzy makes 2007 and Iran look ominously similar to 2002 and Iraq.

It has not been widely noted, but the original version of the Iran resolution included a section calling on the United States to use all economic and diplomatic means to address the problems surrounding Iran.

This section, amazingly, was dropped from the final version that passed. Which senators did not support including diplomatic and economic means of achieving American goals in a resolution that passed at such a dangerous moment?

Senators had forgotten, again, that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was distorted into an effective declaration of war in Vietnam.

Senators had forgotten, again, that the Iraq resolution in 2002 was twisted into an effective declaration of war in Iraq.

It is ominous to note the eerie parallels between the debate about Iraq in 2002 and the debate about Iran in 2007.

The president who used fear of mushroom clouds to frighten the country to war in Iraq now escalates his promotion of fear to World War III, quoting from neoconservative voices who have been disastrously and deadly wrong on national security.

A Democratic Senate has passed the Iran resolution and the Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), claimed she voted for that resolution because it promoted diplomacy when obviously, in fact, it did exactly the opposite.

Sound familiar?

Today the Iraq war appears interminable. The Afghanistan war is locked in bloody stalemate. The war against terrorism lags as al Qaeda has come back strongly. Pakistan faces a dangerous crisis. Turkey moves troops near the Iraq border. Putin monopolizes power. Cold War rhetoric returns.

Yet the president speaks of World War III, and what was also underreported is the standard he set for the third World War he speaks of.

The president did not say the threat is triggered when Iran achieves nuclear weaponry, or when Iran crosses a technical point of no return. No, what the president said was that his standard would be when Iran acquires the knowledge even without the action — a standard so low it comes dangerously close to guaranteeing yet another unwise war, and in the dangerously near future.

It is time for Democrats to step up in a manner they have not since the vote on the Iraq resolution in 2002. It is time for Democrats to stop surrendering to the politics of fear by becoming so fearful themselves their voice is silenced, as the gathering storm of another war comes closer by the hour.

Sen. Clinton in particular should speak out forcefully and clearly and end her uncertain trumpet on the matter of war with Iran.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate should wave the banner that our country does not need another unwise war, and that talk of World War III is irrational, distempered and and extremist.

This is a fight Democrats will win, if waged, but the kind of fight that has not been waged at any time during the dark years of the Bush wars.

We should win the one war that matters, and focus all our efforts on killing Osama bin Laden, and challenge aggressively the failures of our president and vice president to defeat and kill the perpetrators of Sept. 11, 2001.

We should oppose with every breath this march towards endless war, this talk of World War III, this push for a new war with Iran, and the hysteria being pushed by the voices of unreason that have brought enough chaos and carnage for a lifetime.

This time, Democrats must have the spine to make a stand.