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Jewish World Review July 29, 2003/ 29 Tamuz, 5763

Mark Steyn

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Bill Clinton got this right |
Timing is everything. On Tuesday— that would be Qusai Odai Tuesday— Dick Gephardt made a speech in San Francisco and gave us the benefit of his take on Bush's war: ''He chose the wrong backdrop for his photo-op,'' declared the Democratic presidential candidate. ''If you ask me, if he really wanted to show us the state of affairs in Iraq, he should have landed on a patch of quicksand— This looming quagmire is on our shoulders alone.''

''There's A Quagmire Round My Shoulder''? Wasn't that Al Jolson accompanied by Ukulele Ike in Hollywood Parade Of 1929? But no, the Democrats' downbeat chin-up song is all their own work, and they're determined to make it their every-hour-on-the-hour theme tune for Campaign 2004.

Technically speaking, can a quagmire be on your shoulders? Isn't it usually at your feet, so you can sink into it? And, if the quagmire really appears to be looming at your shoulders, might that not be because you're looking at the world upside down?

Not to worry. There are plenty of other folks standing on their heads along with 'em. At the BBC, they're fending off so much Pentagon spin the quote key on the Beeb's typewriter seems to have jammed. Here's how the BBC Web site reported Tuesday's exciting news:

"Saddam sons 'dead' "

"Iraq 'deaths' will have huge effect"

"U.S. celebrates 'good' Iraq news"

The ''BBC'' is currently locked in a battle with Tony ''Blair,'' over whether ''or'' not the British government ''sexed up'' its pre-war intelligence reports. It's heartening to see that the Beeb is doing such a sterling job of sexing down any good news from Iraq.

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Meanwhile, in Canada, the CBC's main national news found time to give its viewers just one ''typical'' reaction from an ordinary Iraqi to the demise of Saddam's kids. This lone representative of public opinion was outraged at the vicious cruelty meted out to two respectable upstanding mass-murdering torturing psychopath rapists. The CBC had to get its microphone pretty close in to its sole man in the street in order to hear him above all the cheers and celebratory volleys from his fellow Iraqis.

But if he's out of step with his Baghdad neighbors he's on the same page as Howard Dean. The leading Democratic presidential candidate, having declined in April to regard the fall of Saddam as a good thing, was even less impressed by the dispatch of Saddam's progeny: ''The ends do not justify the means,'' he sniffed.

Who's the odd one out here? The BBC, CBC and most of the European media have constructed an alternative universe and are content to frolic on its wilder shores. Time stands still in this world: Even though the confidently predicted civilian death tolls and humanitarian catastrophes never arrive, nobody minds. There's no reason why reality should ever intrude.

Unfortunately, Dean, Gephardt and about half the other Democratic candidates still live in the real world— or, more to the point, their would-be constituents do. These candidates are obliged to be, in Bill Clinton's words, ''politically viable.'' At the BBC and Le Monde and the Sydney Morning Herald, anti-Americanism is the New Universal Theory: It explains everything; it's the prism through which every event is viewed. But it's an unlikely strategy for American electioneering. One anti-Bush Democrat at a protest the other day carried a sign reading ''FRANCE WAS RIGHT!'' That's not a winning slogan, even in Vermont.

What happened this week is a foretaste of what the party can expect in the next 15 months: Reality will keep intruding, and if the Dems keep moving the goalposts ever more frantically, pretty soon they'll be campaigning from Planet Zongo. This week, Tom Daschle insisted that Odai and Qusai were all very well, but where was the Big Guy? Why hadn't that slacker Bush caught him yet?

Well, yes, Saddam's gone the Osama route, releasing audio cassettes every couple of weeks. Why is that? These days, a compact camcorder's as easy to smuggle in as a Walkman, and video would have far more impact. Could it be that Saddam isn't in such great shape for the cameras? Not quite ready for his close-up? Wherever he is, he's dependent on a dwindling band of aides and, after the way his sons were sold out, he's gonna be a bit twitchy if Ahmed's trip to the 7-Eleven seems to be taking a little too long.

So suppose there's another firefight and they pull his mustache from the rubble? What's Tom Daschle going to say then? Right now, of the 55 faces on the Iraq's Most Wanted playing cards, the Americans have killed or captured 37. Democrats, by contrast, have yoked their fate to bad news. So they need to ask themselves, realistically, how much is likely to show up. Will significant numbers of Iraqi moppets die from cholera? No. Will the Kurds secede, thereby provoking Turkish intervention? No. Will Iranian-backed Islamists seize Iran? No. Will small numbers of Iraqi moppets die from cholera? No. OK, very very small numbers? Not enough.

On the other hand, will the Niger uranium story be proved true? Quite possibly, but who cares? Will Saddam be tracked down as his sons were? Very possibly. Will the military nab another 10 playing card dudes? That's almost certain. You got to know when to fold. This week, Bush's two aces beat the Dems' Niger joker. That's the way it's always going to go.

Bill Clinton got it right. Democrats need to move on. If they're still droning on about Niger on the day Rummy's passing out souvenir vials of Saddam's DNA, they'll be heading for oblivion. Clinton's approach is all the more lethal because it doesn't seem so: You can't beat Bush on the war, so you neutralize his advantage on the issue by taking it out of contention. You'll appear sympathetic, generous, bipartisan, and mature; the war will be bored off the front pages; and you can fight the election on more favorable terrain on which the public's never really cared for Bush. Whether or not the Clinton tack would work, the Dean-Chomsky-BBC-French strategy never will. When the last Baghdad supporter of Odai and Qusai sounds like Howard Dean's running mate, you know you're off the map.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

06/25/03: It's Mullah time!
05/07/03: What counts is what a guy does when he's not talking
04/30/03: It's named UNSCAM for a very good reason!
04/14/03: Movers and shakers have moved on to the next 'disaster'
03/25/03: Give Saddam credit
03/18/03: 'Eurabia' will have to look after herself
02/27/03: Death wish
02/19/03: The curtain will come down on the peaceniks
02/10/03: Let's quit the UN
02/03/03: Columbia reality-check
01/29/03: Go forth and multiply
01/09/03: America's fake identity crisis
12/31/02: GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?
10/30/02: Stop making excuses for Muslim extremists
09/27/02: The more inventively you try to ''explain'' the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as them
08/23/02: Battered Westerner Syndrome inflicted by myopic Muslim defenders
08/09/02: Friends in low places
08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2002, Mark Steyn