Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2002/ 4 Adar I, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Teddy bears be gone with a war at hand | The Columbia disaster, a tragedy for the families of the astronauts and a sad day for all of us, is particularly bad news for Saddam Hussein, whose followers shouted in glee that the great fireball over Texas was an act of vengeance by the Islamist god.

The mourning in America casts in clear relief who Americans really are. The black day in the blue sky over Texas was not a good day for the teddy bear industry and the manufacturers of yellow ribbon, despite certain media efforts to manufacture gloom. What the world saw in the wake of disaster was not a reprise of the lachrymose exhibition of mourning for Princess Di, but real tears, genuine grief - and a stiff upper lip.

"Once we find out what the cause was, and once we correct that," said the chief of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, "we're going to fly again."

Kay Bailey Hutchison, the senator from Texas, agreed: "We can't step back. We wouldn't be the greatest country in the world if we did."

It's this very self-confidence that will put the American spaceships back in the sky (and soon enough on Mars), the easy bold belief that America can do anything that drives "old Europe" nuts. And this is the self-confidence that would drive a sane dictator into exile, in Paris or Berlin if he couldn't find a place to sleep in Tripoli or Pyongyang or even Riyadh, although to Riyadh, he would have to take his Johnny Walker Black Label with him (the Saudi princes being unlikely to share their private stocks).

The grief of grown-ups in the wake of the Columbia disaster is a departure from recent times, when the teddy bears and yellow ribbons were the perfect symbols of an era now mercifully behind us. George W. Bush's eloquent remarks in the first few hours after the explosion were delivered with perfect pitch. His evocation of the great Hebrew prophet was enough to move an atheist to tears.

"In the skies today, we saw destruction and tragedy," the president told the nation. "Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: 'Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all of these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.'

"The same Creator who names the stars knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth, yet we can pray that all are safely home."

Not once did the president use the personal pronoun; he employed no appeals to treacle and piety. There were no manufactured tears with cheap claims that he could feel the pain of the families trying to deal with the sudden and awful loss of husband, father, son, daughter. The evocation of faith and the hope of reunion in a place "farther than we can see" was clearly a sentiment from the secret places of the president's heart.

This is something Saddam Hussein could usefully take heed of, because it is what gives the president the power and authority to carry through on his vow that he and like-minded free men will do what must be done to assure the survival of civilization as we know it.

The president sends Colin Powell to the United Nations tomorrow to attempt to transplant a spine in a body made of equal parts jelly, fog and gossamer. The secretary of state has of late resembled a dove who has fed on meat. "The issue," says the secretary, "is not how much more time the inspectors need to search in the dark, it is how much more time Iraq should be given to turn on the lights and come clean."

To persuade the reluctant delegates, who usually regard doing nothing to upset Third World despots and jackleg tyrants to be the supreme mission of the United Nations, Mr. Powell is expected to reveal electronic intercepts and satellite photographs - the most closely guarded secrets of the black arts - to prove the existence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. This is not the "smoking gun." The president understands that there is not enough smoke in hell to persuade those determined not to be persuaded. But it will be enough.

Tony Blair, just back from Washington, told the House of Commons that "the final phase" of the 12-year campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein is at hand, that Saddam has at last been found in the "material breach" the United Nations has said it will not tolerate. "Show weakness now," Mr. Blair told his Parliament, "and no one will ever believe us when we try to show strength in the future."

The future is now, and the president and the prime minister finally have the grown-ups with them.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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