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Jewish World Review March 7, 2002 / 23 Adar, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Let Doubting Thomas exercise his right to fret | A FEW days ago, Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, was busy criticizing -- more in sorrow than in partisanship, you understand -- the Bush administration's plans for its continued war against terrorism.

But on Monday, when the New York Times called for comment on the news of the combat deaths of seven American soldiers in Afghanistan, Sen. Daschle recalled that politics stops at the water's edge, at least sometimes: "As we look at our circumstances today," he said, "I think there is no question that there is strong support for the troops and for the president's leadership."

The important word here is "today," and one has to admit that it is refreshing to hear a statesman so candidly admit that his views on the most serious of all matters of national conduct amount to nothing more than questions of daily circumstance. Indeed, when the going is a little safer, Sen. Daschle reassured the Times, he will be back with "questions . . . about the need for our peacekeeping efforts."

Thus spoke an honest man. The senator will be back, with questions, as soon as it is practicable, and so will others. The drums of peace have been beating louder lately. They will be made louder still by the fatal reminder this week that the war in Afghanistan is a war and that it is not won and that it has costs.

This is not surprising. We are well along into a war that we did not want, that is expanding in ways both within and outside our control, that is ferociously savage and that is following a course we cannot predict.

The house of war is a bleak house, and it is natural enough not to want to live in it. Last weekend, Palestinians killed 22 Israelis; and on Monday, Israel countered with attacks that took at least 17 Palestinian lives. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed the Israeli Parliament in the most uncompromising terms: "We are in a bitter war against a cruel and bloodthirsty enemy. . . . It's either them or us. We are with our backs to the wall." Americans look at Israel, at the way of life in war, and know that this is where they do not want to be.

But here, for now at least, we are. We are at war with an enemy that begins by murdering more than 3,000 of us and would like to murder a lot more. We are at war with the likes of men who made Daniel Pearl say, "My mother is a Jew. I am a Jew," and slit his throat.

In such circumstances, the first obvious point is that we don't have any immediate choice but to fight and win. That renders mostly pointless most of the doubting. Daschle is right: The administration does not know exactly how, in the end, it is going to prevail. But it does seem to know what Daschle does not -- that in the end it must prevail, that it cannot settle for declaring victory and going home: Home is where they attacked us.

Still, even given the war's imperative, some criticism has its place. It would be more helpful, though, if it bore any resemblance to reality.

Here is that reality: So far, everything has gone remarkably well, given that what is going on is, well, war. America was attacked in the most surprising fashion imaginable. The nation rallied and its government responded -- brilliantly. Against almost all predictions, American forces swiftly routed the war's primary enemy, the combined forces of al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Americans with their allies took control of almost all of the territory of Afghanistan, liberated its people from one of the vilest regimes in history and established an interim government.

Meanwhile, the administration proceeds -- in America, in Europe, in the Middle East, in the Philippines -- with its promises to strike at Islamic terror networks everywhere. So far, these efforts seem to be meeting with some success; certainly, there are no signs of disaster. Meanwhile also, the administration plots the second major phase of war, what it politely calls "regime change" in Iraq. There aren't any signs of looming disaster here either, at least not that anyone has compellingly argued; indeed, the track record in the first Gulf War (not to mention Afghanistan) would seem to give rise to at least pretty good expectations.

Of course, in the light of this reality, it is still perfectly fine -- and certainly not unpatriotic, as some Republicans suggested -- to fret and worry and carp on Sunday television. It is just not serious.

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© 2002, Washington Post Co.