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Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2002 / 9 Kislev, 5763

Robert W. Tracinski

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President must still release himself from political trap | President Bush can count two unexpected victories in the past week: a broad mandate from the American people -- in the form of an unprecedented mid-term congressional sweep -- followed by a unanimous United Nations Security Council vote approving the administration's revised resolution on Iraq.

The president is right to stop his supporters from gloating, but for a reason he does not yet realize: the second of his victories threatens to wipe out the first.

Last Tuesday's election was a spontaneous expression of public support for the War on Terrorism and specifically for war against Iraq. Every once in a while, The New York Times is surprised by the reaction of the American public, so it dispatches its reporters out to the hinterlands to discover what real people actually think.

A recent report on "The Bush Effect" informed the newspaper's Manhattan readers that a young firefighter in the Northeast who voted for Al Gore in 2000 voted Republican this year because "Bush came out as more of a warrior." A registered nurse in Colorado supported President Bush because "I don't get the sense he would back down to anybody." A blue-collar New Hampshire man said of the president, simply: "I like his hard nose."

Unfortunately, these people voted for a "hard-nosed" foreign policy that doesn't exist. Contrary to reports in the press that the U.N. Security Council approved a "tough resolution," Friday's vote does not mean approval for a U.S. war against Iraq; its actual meaning and effect is to delay that war. We have already waited two months while the U.N. debated. Now the Security Council has given Iraq another week to accept the resolution and 30 days to declare what weapons its possesses. Then the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, has until December 23 to start inspections, and 60 days to report the results. That takes us to February 21, more than three months from now.

Moreover, Secretary of State Colin Powell won approval of the resolution by promising France and Russia that we won't go to war without coming back for another Security Council vote -- which will presumably be knocked around for another two months. That takes us into late spring, when the weather gets too hot for a war in the desert.

During this whole process, the crucial decision about whether Iraq is undermining the inspections -- which the administration has named as its sole casus belli -- will be subcontracted to Blix, a Swedish civil servant. Will Blix have the courage to press Iraq hard and fully report its obstructions, knowing that this will start a war his fellow Europeans oppose? Maybe he will, and maybe he won't. But has there ever been a point in America's history when we chose war or peace based on the decisions of a single foreign bureaucrat?

If World War II had the sitzkrieg -- when the French and British armies sat behind their fortifications for six months and did nothing -- the War on Terrorism will now have a Blix-krieg, as American and British diplomats wrangle over inspections while our armies do nothing.

That the U.N. resolution is intended to paralyze the U.S. was stated more or less openly by French President Jacques Chirac, who convinced Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to vote "yes" by telling him: "War is much less likely if you support the resolution than if you don't." Surely, neither man is so naive as to think that the resolution will convince Saddam Hussein to give up his arms. Instead, they hope the resolution's delays will take the wind out of America's war resolve.

How did President Bush fall into this trap? According to another New York Times report, he was convinced by Powell, who argued that "there had to be deference to United Nations procedures and the twists and turns of diplomacy there." So much for Bush's unilateralism.

Bush now finds himself in a difficult dilemma. He won the people's support because they think he stands for a principled defense of America's interests -- in defiance of the world, if necessary. But the actual direction Bush has set for his policy is to sacrifice decisive American action to show deference to a foreign council that is demonstrably hostile to American interests.

This direction can still be changed. If President Bush stops listening to the U.N. apologists in the State Department and starts listening to the voters who backed the Republicans last Tuesday, he can escape from this trap. He can make the spirit that won him the election victory defeat the dispiriting counsels that brought him a false victory at the U.N.

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