Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 2002 / 24 Tishrei 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

Thank Heaven he's not president | Now and then a happy realization dawns: Al Gore is not president of the United States. It doesn't happen often. There's usually no reason to think about it. For the former vice president has been very good about not making the news. But, boy, when he does, the realization brings an immense feeling of relief. And I have this impulse to utter a prayer of thanks. (It may have been Bismarck who observed that "G-d looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America.")

It happened again the other day, when I read about Al Gore's latest speech, and realized it hadn't been delivered from the Oval Office. ("Al Gore takes president to task on his Iraq stance.") The burden of Mr. Gore's criticism? George W. Bush is paying too much attention to the threat posed by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, with the result that he may "severely damage" the war on terror and "weaken" American leadership in the world.

Huh? That strange analysis represents so profound a misreading of the war on terror, and of the Middle East and its power relationships, and of the nature of the growing danger we face, and of the realities of this perilous world in general, that, well, it was a blessed relief to know it hadn't come from a President Gore.

The coming campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein and free Iraq from his grip, so it can no longer be used as a base for his kind of terroristic threatening, is not a distraction from the war on terror. It is the next, logical phase of that war.

George W. Bush spelled it out eight months ago in his last State of the Union address:

"We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

And yet Al Gore speaks of this administration's "sudden" decision to go after Saddam. Maybe he -- and the rest of us -- should pay more attention to what this president has been saying all along. He seems to mean it.

For years Saddam has defied not only the U.N.'s resolutions, but the terms of the truce he embraced to save himself after his debacle in Kuwait. His continuing defiance only encourages terrorism and cows other Arab regimes, whose fearful leaders dare not oppose him openly. Removing Saddam from the picture would affect the whole Middle East -- much for the better. Just as the last victory there over Saddam Hussein did in 1991. His defeat needs to be made permanent. Soon. Before he attains strategic weapons and threatens to use them, either openly or through shadowy outfits like al-Qaida.

The Middle East is not separate from the currents of power in the world. Nothing in recent years so encouraged stability there like the collapse of the Soviet Union, which meant the end of its provocations, its arms shipments and its troublemaking in general.

The end of Saddam Hussein himself would send a powerful message throughout the region -- just as the end of the Taliban in Afghanistan did. The message: It's not nice to threaten America, and aiding those who attack us can be dangerous to a regime's health. When that same point is made even clearer in Iraq, the peace and stability of the whole Middle East will be bolstered.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Al Gore's remarks is that, if he had wound up winning the fiercely contested presidential election of 2000, he might now be following much the same policy as this president toward Iraq. After all, much to his credit in 1991, Senator Gore voted to authorize the Gulf War. Now he's opposing Act II of that same war -- for reasons that don't make much sense. If I didn't know better, and I don't, I'd think he was just looking for an issue on which to run for president again.

Al Gore is now claiming that a victory over Saddam Hussein would be a distraction from the war on terror, rather than another victory in that war. To embrace that strange theory is to let a narrow partisanship obscure clear, hard-headed judgment about the realities of power, military and moral, in the world. Far from "weakening" American leadership, eliminating the threat that Saddam poses would bolster it.

For reasons that remain unfathomable, Al Gore seems to think otherwise. But there is this great consolation: He is speaking at a safe remove from political office.

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