Jewish World Review May 31, 2002 / 20 Sivan, 5762

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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The shrinking Bush presidency?

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com |
For months, President Bush has condemned, reviled, warned and threatened Saddam Hussein. It was hard to see what this gained us, though in telegraphing our punch, we clearly offered Hussein a protracted amount of time to reinforce his fortifications, hide his nuclear weapons (if he has any) and prepare for battle. Teddy Roosevelt's wisdom, let's recall, does not suggest speaking loudly and carrying a small stick.

Still, it might be argued that Bush was preparing the American people, not the enemy, with his bellicose talk. And since our Constitution requires a declaration of war, we could not achieve surprise anyway.

But those arguments now seem antique in light of strong evidence coming out of Washington that President Bush does not intend to make war on Iraq at all. First, stories in USA Today and The Washington Post suggested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had succeeded in postponing (possibly indefinitely) an attack on Iraq. The uniformed military was reportedly reluctant to deploy the estimated 200,000 troops that would be required to oust the Saddam regime, and were further inhibited by worries about the Iraqi dictator's possession of chemical and biological weapons. If he's in a fight for his life, they argue, he won't have any incentive to show restraint, as he did in 1991, in the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Following the appearance of these stories, Bush himself told German Chancellor Gearhart Schroeder, "There is no war plan on my desk."

Saddam Hussein did not show "restraint" in 1991. He was deterred. The United States made it quite clear that if he used chemical or biological weapons against our troops, we would use all of the weapons in our arsenal in retaliation.

To quote the president himself, time is not on our side. If our military is frightened of a chemically and biologically armed Saddam, how much more cowed will they be by a nuclear arsenal? Suppose a nuclear-armed Saddam decides to obliterate Israel, or to sell a bomb to Al Qaeda? Saddam has the will (witness his plot to kill former President Bush and his likely participation in the first World Trade Center bombing) and the means to do us great harm. What he has lacked so far is the opportunity.

Why is the idea of sending 200,000 American troops to depose one of the most dangerous men on the planet so daunting? We sent double that number to fight the Gulf War. And as the president has reminded us constantly since Sept. 11, the war on terrorism will not be short, casualty-free or easy. During his address to Congress, the president said: "Our nation -- this generation -- will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail."

If after months of threats, President Bush now shrinks from action, the results for his presidency, and more important, for the country, will be disastrous. It will be a thousand times worse than George H. W. Bush's betrayal on taxes. He will lose all credibility and be stamped, once and for all, as feckless and unserious. Our enemies will be emboldened, and our friends dispirited. The stakes are that high.

(A million thanks for the thousands of emails, letters, cards and other expressions of support for us and our son Jonathan. The outpouring of prayer and good wishes was quite overwhelming and deeply appreciated.

Jonathan has made an incredible recovery. In the space of just three weeks, he went from comatose to nearly normal! At first, we thought he'd be in the hospital and rehab for weeks. As it turned out, he was released after just two and a half weeks. Only a residual weakness in his right hand and scars on his chin and neck tell the tale of his awful ordeal.

There were some terrible hours, particularly in the beginning. But after the immediate danger had passed, it was actually a joyful (if anxious) process to watch his capacities return: first recognizing people, then squeezing hands on request, pointing to "Coke bottle" and "motorcycle," and finally speaking and walking.

Throughout we were buoyed by the prayers and fond wishes of so many!)

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