War Torn

As a young radical, Norm Coleman protested the Vietnam War. Now his support for the Iraq quagmire may swallow his political career.

Coleman even made a cameo appearance in the infamous outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. When the heat was on Rove for his role in disclosing Plame's identity to reporters, Minnesota's senior senator was one of three legislators tapped to be Rove's principal defenders in Congress. Coleman repeatedly attacked the credibility of Plame's husband, ambassador Joseph Wilson, and chastised Senate colleagues for deigning to debate the matter. "My Democratic friends would be doing the nation a great service if they spent half as much time getting legislation passed that will benefit the country as they do in attacking Karl Rove," Coleman said at the time.

Yet as Bush's approval ratings have plummeted, Coleman has sought to distance himself from the administration he once embraced. He parted with the White House on drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales way back in May. Last week, he was one of the first legislators to call for Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) to step down when a police report emerged alleging that he had solicited gay sex in a Minneapolis bathroom. The most telling incident, however, occurred in January of last year, when it was revealed that members of Coleman's staff had scrubbed his Wikipedia bio to hide the fact that he voted with Bush 98 percent of the time in 2003.

Coleman has had less success trying to unshackle his political fortunes from the Iraq war. The senator made national headlines in December after returning from a trip to Iraq and announcing that he would not support sending additional troops into Baghdad. But the key word turned out to be Baghdad—a nuance missed by most media outlets. In subsequent days, Coleman voiced support for deploying more soldiers to other parts of Iraq, such as Anbar province. And in January, he voted against a bipartisan resolution opposing the troop surge.

Lawrence Jackson

Coleman continues to defend the necessity of the Iraq war. "I have never considered myself a pacifist," he says in a statement issued to City Pages. "I draw a clear distinction between my opposition to the Vietnam War as a young man and my support for the war against Al Qaeda in Iraq and around the world. Vietnam did not attack the United States—nor was there ever any fear of the Vietnamese coming to our country seeking to destroy our way of life. Al Qaeda attacked the United States—it murdered 3,000 of our citizens—and they continue to threaten our nation, our allies, and our way of life."

But if Coleman is seeking cover, his onetime allies aren't letting him go quietly. Earlier this month, a group called Freedom's Watch launched a $15 million national ad campaign aimed at convincing wavering legislators to stay the course. The TV commercials feature wounded soldiers and evoke the attacks of 9/11 to make the case that Iraq is an essential front in the War on Terror. Freedom's Watch has spent more than $200,000 to air the ads in the Twin Cities, and although Coleman has never been mentioned by name, there's little doubt he's the primary target of their message.

"I think that Coleman is damned if he stands with the president and damned if he condemns the president," says Janecek. "Because anything Coleman does now is viewed through the rubric of trying to get re-elected."

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