Jewish World Review April 14, 2004/ 24 Nissan, 5764

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Is war a place for a tofu president? | Britain, alas, may one day be part of the European Union, but the good news is that you probably can't make Europeans out of Englishmen.

The spaniels nip at Tony Blair's ankles just the way the terriers scratch at George W.'s shins, and the prime minister stands fast, demonstrating anew why we regard our English cousins as "the old reliables."

And just in time. Tony Blair, like George W. Bush, labors under the burden of a spoiled, arrogant and self-satisfied opposition, driven by a know-it-all media and cheered on by whiners, layabouts and assorted malcontents. No British prime minister nor any American president is ever again likely to enjoy the broad public support for sacrifice that earlier presidents and prime ministers could count on in times of great national peril, and we might as well get used to it. If CNN's cameras and correspondents had been positioned at Omaha Beach on June 6, the pressure on FDR and Winston Churchill to negotiate a cease-fire by nightfall, "to give peace a chance," would have been irresistible.

John Kerry continues trying to have it both ways — he's against the war in Iraq, but he wouldn't change much about it. He might bring the troops home if he could figure out a way to do that and keep them there, too. He doesn't agree with the elderly hysterics in his party, notably Teddy Kennedy and Robert Byrd, that Iraq is "another Vietnam," but, who knows? It could be. He has a plan for "a broader approach in Iraq," but he's on record (in the Boston Globe) conceding right now that "maybe it doesn't work."

If Ronald Reagan was the Teflon president because nothing stuck to him and Bill Clinton was the Velcro candidate because everything did, Monsieur Kerry is "the tofu candidate," with no flavor of his own, ready to absorb every flavor, taste, spice or savory, piquant or not, that touches him. He's the long, tall hunk of tofu that neither America nor its friends or the friends of friends could easily survive.

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Monsieur Kerry is under considerable pressure now to tear himself away from ski slope and sick bed to say, exactly and precisely, what and how he proposes to take charge of the war in Iraq and how he would array his nuances, niceties and moderations for the battle that, like it or not, will be the lot of American presidents stretching from here to the horizon. The best he has come up with so far is a strategy of turning it over to the United Nations. But the U.N. bugged out of Baghdad when the first bomb exploded, and it's difficult to imagine Kofi Annan's warriors in pastel marching toward the sound of popguns.

Nobody knows this better than the embattled Tony Blair, who has every selfish reason to cut his losses and scuttle toward placation and mollification. But he repeated his vow over the Easter weekend to stand up to the clear and present challenge to civilization. In a stirring and eloquent message all the more powerful for appearing in London's Guardian, a leading British voice of appeasement, he set out the stakes in a struggle that won't be cheap, quick or easy.

"We are locked in a historic struggle in Iraq," he wrote. "On its outcome hangs more than the fate of the Iraqi people. Were we to fail, which we will not, it is more than 'the power of America' that would be defeated. The hope of freedom and religious tolerance in Iraq would be snuffed out. Dictators would rejoice; fanatics and terrorists would be triumphant. Every nascent strand of moderate Arab opinion, knowing full well that the future should not belong to fundamentalist religion, would be set back in bitter disappointment. ...

"The terrorists prey on ethnic or religious discord. From Kashmir to Chechnya, to Palestine and Israel, they foment hatred, they deter reconciliation. In Europe, they conducted the massacre in Madrid. They threaten France. They forced the cancellation of the president of Germany's visit to Djibouti. They have been foiled in Britain, but only for now.

"Of course they use Iraq. It is vital to them. As each attack brings about American attempts to restore order, so they then characterize it as American brutality. As each piece of chaos menaces the very path toward peace and democracy along which most Iraqis want to travel, they use it to try to make the coalition lose heart, and bring about the retreat that is the fanatics' victory.

"They know it is a historic struggle. They know their victory would do far more than defeat America or Britain. It would defeat civilization and democracy everywhere.

"They know it, but do we? The truth is, faced with this struggle, on which our own fate hangs, a significant part of Western opinion is sitting back, if not half-hoping we fail, certainly replete with schadenfreude at the difficulty we find."

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

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