It didn’t take long.

That is, for Nancy Pelosi, the new Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, to run for cover. Days after her colleagues selected her to replace Dick “I’m Outta Here” Gephardt, Pelosi appeared on Meet The Press. Out of the box, Russert asked her about recent news reports on the increasing threat posed by a resurgent al Qaeda. Pelosi, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, confirmed the “threat is real” and added, “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the President in the fight against terrorism.” Is a new attack inevitable? Russert wondered. “That certainly is a possibility,” she replied, and added, “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the president.”

Clearly, she had inherited page one from Gephardt’s playbook: regarding terrorism, handcuff yourself to Bush. Russert asked if Pelosi supported the policy of monitoring Iraqis who are in the United States. She did not answer directly, and Russert, in his way, kept pushing. She remarked she was not familiar with the details of this particular initiative, but asserted, “I stand with the president in rooting out terrorism.”

Russert turned to the subject of war in Iraq. He noted that Pelosi, who had voted against authorizing Bush to launch a war against Iraq whenever he wants, had said in September, “I have not seen the intelligence to justify the action that the president is suggesting….What is the threat that [Saddam] poses to the United States?” Russert then queried her, “Do you think that the situation with Iraq is a distraction from the war on terrorism?”

Her reply: “I don’t think its a distr–I mean, any decision–I don’t question a decision of the president of the United States on his timing or on the priority he gives a threat.” But wasn’t that precisely what she had done in the remark Russert had quoted? And hadn’t she taken issue with Bush’s priorities by voting against the resolution? If she believed there was no justification for action against Saddam, then she would have to consider a war against Saddam as something of a distraction. On national television, she was undressing politically–and undermining her previous stand and the arguments of fellow Democrats who had joined with her in opposing the it’s-up-to-Bush war legislation.

Pelosi caved further. Russert asked what she would do if Bush declared that Saddam was thwarting inspections and ordered military action without consulting the United Nations. “If our young people are called to duty, certainly we’ll support the action of the president,” Pelosi answered. “I hope that it does not come to that.” She commented that she preferred the conflict be resolved “diplomatically rather than just showing our power by going in militarily.”

Had she given Bush a go-to-war-free card by signaling that she and other Democrats would not stand in the way should Bush decide to attack Iraq without support from allies? Russert tightened the knot: “But if the president decides to go unilaterally or with the British and the Turks without UN approval, you would support the president?”

“Yes, I would support the president,” Pelosi replied. At least, she dropped the bit about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the guy. But where was the intellectual honesty? If, in her mind, the case has not been made that Saddam is a threat to the United States, why back a unilateral move? And why permit Bush–whose credibility she had previously challenged–to make the call on his own? Moments earlier, Pelosi had noted she fears a US strike against Iraq will have negative consequences for the war on terrorism. Consequently, in the event Bush does order such a war, it should be incumbent upon Pelosi, as someone whose job it is to protect Americans, to argue that a misguided action is under way. That, of course, would be a challenge, for extensive pro-war sentiment usually accompanies the initiation of military action. But with the position she has adopted, Pelosi doesn’t have to fret in advance about being rolled. Instead, she is ready to salute.

Here is the Pelosi position: I’ll argue with Bush over this life-and-death matter, but I won’t criticize him if he makes a wrong decision that I believe imperils the nation, in fact, I’ll endorse it. This is the sort of opposition that a president need not worry about.