THE current backlash on Capitol Hill and elsewhere against those who questioned or voted against the war option in the Persian Gulf will not be remembered as one of America's finer hours. Not that the attacks are unexpected. They reflect the realities of American party politics. Just ask Sam Nunn. The Georgia Democrat and respected chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is now a prime target for Republicans, since Mr. Nunn's military acumen, moderate political bearing, and Southern constituency have made him a serious presidential contender in post-Reagan-era politics.
Having opposed an early war in favor of continued sanctions against Iraq, Nunn is now being painted by Republicans as a fellow-traveler of such liberal Democrats as Ted Kennedy. The strategy seems to be working. The Georgian has announced he won't run for president in '92.
Had the war gone differently, of course, it is hard to imagine the Democrats comporting themselves quietly on the sidelines. They too would have gone for the political jugular.
Still, it is unfortunate that in the days after a war in which American soldiers (no doubt of both political parties) fought and died partisan politics should so quickly rear its head. Particularly distasteful is the subtle questioning of the patriotism of those who voted for continued sanctions against Iraq. January's vote in Congress was a vote of conscience. That must be respected.
Some of those who opposed an Iraqi war supported the war against Vietnam earlier in their careers. It was not unpatriotic to be cautious about putting the country through another divisive experience. Even so bold a leader as Winston Churchill balked at the Normandy invasion because he remembered well the massacre at Gallipoli in World War I.
To not foresee the difference between a jungle war and a desert war, or to know that Saddam was a paper tiger, may have been a mistake. But it wasn't un-American.