PARTISANSHIP AND WAR….Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican and an occasional critic of the war, gave a powerful speech at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday:

The Iraq war should not be debated in the United States on a partisan political platform. This debases our country, trivializes the seriousness of war and cheapens the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform….The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them. Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years.

Ivo Daalder has the rest of the highlights over at TPMCafe. As I wrote last year, Hagel’s words encapsulate the thing that’s been my single biggest source of disgust with the Bush/Rove machine for the past four years. They could have viewed 9/11 as a means to genuinely unite the country, but they deliberately chose not to:

After a calculated display of bipartisan mourning for public consumption, the Bush administration thereafter refused to consult with or even take notice of the existence of an opposition party. Republican consultants advised their clients to use the war as a wedge issue in reelection campaigns and the Republican leadership declared rhetorical war on mild-mannered Tom Daschle. Andy Card talked about marketing plans for the Iraq invasion. The White House cynically proposed a union-busting plan for the Department of Homeland Security designed solely to arouse Democratic opposition. The President told cheering audiences that Senate Democrats didn’t care about the security of the country and campaigned tirelessly even against congressmen who had supported him. In Georgia, Max Cleland was likened to Osama bin Laden.

And it worked: Republicans won the election. And Democrats finally woke up and realized that George Bush was more interested in using the war as a partisan club than he was in actually fighting terrorists.

And that’s not all. Unlike his father, Bush deliberately timed the vote on the war declaration for maximum impact on the 2002 midterms; he delayed progress on the UN declaration in order to maintain that as hot button for his base; and the Downing Street Memos make clear that the timing of “spikes of activity” against Iraq were related to the midterm elections as well.

The rest of the world sees this too and asks the obvious question: If Bush himself treats the war on terrorism as just another partisan club, like tort reform or tax cuts, why should anyone else take it any more seriously? It’s a hard question to answer.