Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2003 / 12 Adar I 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

A Question for Tom Daschle | Dear Diary,

It was a cold day in Arkansas. The forecast had rain and sleet on the way, and I was on my way to interview the Senate majority -- oops, now minority -- leader. Tom Daschle was in Little Rock to do his bit for fellow Democrat Blanche Lincoln, who was announcing her bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate.

I'd prepared. I'd hunted up the speech Senator Daschle had given when he voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the war looming ahead. And I'd noted his statements since showed less, well, resolve.

``We do know,'' he'd said back in October, ``that Iraq has weaponized thousands of gallons of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. We know that Iraq maintains stockpiles of some of the world's deadliest chemical weapons, including VX, sarin and mustard gas. We know that Iraq is developing deadlier ways to deliver these horrible weapons, including unmanned drones and long-range ballistic missiles. And we know that Saddam Hussein is committed to one day possessing nuclear weapons. If that should happen, instead of simply bullying the Gulf region, he could dominate it. Instead of threatening only his neighbors, he would become a grave threat to U.S. security and to global security. The threat posed by Saddam Hussein may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And it cannot be ignored.''

That was last October -- almost four months ago, and the danger hasn't lessened. So how come Tom Daschle had been sniping away at the administration's position ever since? Just one example: ``Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said, 'We have yet to see any evidence that Saddam still has weapons of mass destruction.''' -- The Associated Press, Jan. 25, 2003.

Just where does he stand? I asked him. Oh, the senator assured me, he still believes Saddam is dangerous, and shouldn't be allowed to get away with his game indefinitely.

So how long is indefinitely? Oh, not more than a few weeks, he said. I checked the date on my watch. Till March 1st? I asked. Yeah, he said. Glad we got all that cleared up, and even a date certain -- which is the one thing you won't find in all those murky resolutions out of the United Nations. Saddam better beware the ides of March.

Senator Daschle also had the highest praise for Colin Powell's presentation before the United Nations. So did Senator Lincoln, who's always alert. But everybody seems to have liked Colin Powell's speech, and some were even swayed by it.

The Boston Globe, which has been editorializing against the war for months, seemed to switch sides as soon as the general had been heard from. Even The New York Times joined the chorus of agreement in its editorial the next day -- before wimping out in the last paragraph.

Why, even Mary McGrory -- Mary McGrory! the oldest established knee-jerk-liberal opinionator in Washington, with the possible exception of Helen Thomas and Daniel Schorr, wrote a column in The Washington Post headlined: ``I'm persuaded.''

Case closed.

I thanked both the senators for their time and made my way across the street, where I ordered an Irish coffee -- no cream, please -- and thought deep thoughts. Well, deep for me. I wondered what I was doing in this business, since I didn't see a bit of news in all this, just the usual political maneuvering.

And I wondered why Colin Powell's speech had made such a deep impression -- across the country, if not around the world. He hadn't really said anything much different from what the president said earlier. Or what Donald Rumsfeld has been saying all along. And Paul Wolfowitz, of course, and Condi Rice. Why did Colin Powell's speech feel like some kind of turning point?

It wasn't just that Colin Powell is a general as well as a secretary of state, and should know. Or that he was known to have had the slows when it came to Iraq, just as he had resisted the first Gulf War, preparatory to directing it from Washington. No, it was something else.

There's something about the man that inspires that most important of political assets, trust. It wasn't what he was saying, or the satellite photos and intercepted conversations he was sharing. It was the man. The speaker is the warrant for the speech.

Colin Powell doesn't have to be eloquent. He's Colin Powell and that's enough. Character is all. Eisenhower had the same kind of effect. He inspires trust.

If I spot Tom Daschle sniping away at the administration's Iraq policy again, I'll know he was just putting this country editor on. The trust will be dead.

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