You would think the Democrats would have found their issue by now. You would think the Democratic Party would have decided to become the party of peace.
But, no, it can't decide. For months now it has been unable to decide whether it wants to back President Bush in a war against Iraq or whether it wants to oppose him.
And what a lost opportunity this is.
The Democrats have long been blamed for launching wars. In 1976, in a vice-presidential debate, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) called World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam "all Democrat wars."
"I figured it up the other day," he continued. "If you added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit."
Today, however, a Republican is poised to launch a war.
And I am not suggesting that the Democrats should oppose it because of politics. I am suggesting they should oppose it because this war is wrong.
President Bush sent American troops to Saudi Arabia to protect our oil supplies. And, unfortunately, we needed to do that. Under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, America has not reduced its dependence on foreign oil; it has increased it.
Now, however, that oil supply is safe.
Next, George Bush said we had to save our hostages.
Now, however, the hostages are safe.
So why now are we going to launch a war?
Americans are about to fight and die to restore the emir to the throne of Kuwait. Americans are about to fight and die for a monarchy.
I don't know if our Founding Fathers would laugh or cry over that one.
Many Republicans feel they must back their President. OK, that is understandable. But what has so many Democrats paralyzed?
I think they are afraid that this war may be a quick and easy one. And they are worried that if they oppose this war and we win it easily, they will look like cowards and fools.
A new and chilling phrase is entering the discussion. I heard it the other day. People are starting to talk about how a war against Iraq may be a "six-day war." This is a reference to the war in 1967 in which Israel crushed the forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in less than a week.
In other words some people in Washington really believe a war against Iraq will be one in which we barely get our hair mussed. We will win in a walk and the boys and girls will come home and Bush will meet them at the airport and bash the Democrats for being so wrong.
There is another scenario, of course. This one supposes it will not be a six-day war. This one supposes that the Iraqis will hang tough and make us fight for every inch. Or even if we win relatively quickly, that the death toll from this high-tech war will be enormous.
And the American people will ask: "Tell me again what we are fighting for? Who is this guy we are putting back on the throne? And how many lives is he worth?"
Why would George Bush risk a war like this? Well, because peace may not really accomplish what he wants. What if peace should break out and Saddam Hussein pulls out of Kuwait? Then what?
He would still be waiting there across the border with his huge army and arsenal. And he could easily invade Kuwait again.
George Bush doesn't want that. He wants Saddam's utter destruction. War will achieve that, he believes, and peace will not.
And maybe Bush is right. But what's our hurry to find out? Is war so desirable that we must rush to it? What is so magical about Jan. 15? And why is consulting the United Nations so important to George Bush, but consulting the U.S. Congress is not?
I don't believe the American people want this war. I don't care what the polls show. I think most Americans want peace instead of war. But try to find someone in the Democratic Party with a chance of becoming President who is willing to say that.
The last real peace candidate America had was George McGovern, who ran in 1972 on a platform opposing the war in Vietnam. He got clobbered, of course.
But last month, he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and questioned the benefits of a war against Iraq.
"What are the benefits that would offset the cost of, let us say, 10,000 to 50,000 young American lives, plus 25,000 legs and arms, 5,000 or 10,000 pairs of eyes, 15,000 lungs and thousands of hands and feet and kidneys and stomachs, testicles, spines and faces and all the other tragedy that goes with war of this kind?" he asked.
"I am not a pacifist," McGovern continued. He was, after all, a bomber pilot in World War II. "If we had the conditions similar to those that faced us in World War II and I had the strength to do it, I would volunteer to go again. . . . But in this case, I see no American interest in the Persian Gulf of sufficient importance to justify sacrificing American lives."
Maybe World War II was, as Bob Dole said, a "Democrat" war. But the war against Iraq is going to be a Republican one.
And if no Democrat has the guts to really oppose it, maybe George McGovern should throw his hat in the ring one more time.