Jewish World Review July 15, 2002/ 6 Menachem-Av, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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Climbing down with the White House | Up the hill, with banners flying in the breeze, rhetoric in the wind and bands blazing with ferocious marching music.

Uh, and then down the hill, with pop-guns holstered.

But no one can be surprised that after a week of huffing, puffing and bloviating, the Bush administration, under withering BB-gun fire from the European Union, is searching frantically to find a way to surrender to the International Criminal Court. It's not combat fatigue, but the dread Republican disease, the most virulent of all social diseases, for which there is neither cure nor treatment.

George W.'s heart is obviously in the right place. He recognizes an assault on American sovereignty. He means well. But it takes more than heart to fight off the minnows at the State Department, who have nibbled many a good man to death.

Here the president was on July 2, speaking to the cheering grass-roots in Milwaukee: "We'll try to work out the impasse at the United Nations. But one thing we're not going to do is sign on to the International Criminal Court. As the United States works to bring peace around the world, our diplomats and our soldiers could be drug into this court. That's very troubling to me.

"President Clinton signed this treaty, but when he signed it, he said it should not be submitted to the Senate. It therefore never has been, and I don't intend to submit it, either."

Since it's the Americans who do most of the heavy lifting when the world's heavy lifting has to be done, the president held the advantage. If the diplomats at the United Nations, who always have to borrow troops and hitch rides on American planes when a crisis calls, wouldn't agree to immunity for American soldiers in these peacekeeping missions, the Americans would no longer have anything to do with missions that would put American soldiers in harm's way. We would begin with the mission to Bosnia. The Europeans, for once, could stand on their feet instead of sitting on their bottoms.

This was tough talk, but tough talk an American president could back up without popping a sweat - just the kind of talk to make European ingrates sit down, shut up and put aside notions of using a runaway court, which had announced that it will answer to no one for whatever it decides to do, to neuter Americans.

Alas, that was then. The next day (just in time for the Fourth of July), after the administration had been worked over by the Foggy Bottom minnows, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, his pants freshly pressed and his chest bristling with campaign ribbons, was trotted out at the U.N. to take it all back.

"From the U.S. perspective, nothing is going to happen," he assured the assembled worthies representing citadels of the rule of law from the Sudan to North Korea. "It's in together, out together." From Washington, the president's press agent affected a Churchillian pose with matching prose: "We will not abandon Bosnia."

A nice try, but what the White House does not get is that it's not Bosnia the U.S. government should not abandon, but the American soldier who will in the future be sent on errands of mercy in behalf of "peace" (or even peace, without the necessary quotation marks), all at the risk of being thrown into the dock before a court bent on extracting payment for decades of jealousy and malicious envy.

That's what President Bush thought he was saying, before the State Department took the trouble to tell him what he really meant, when he said that "our diplomats and soldiers could be drug into this court."

The administration worked late into last night to fashion a "compromise" that could be disguised not to look like surrender. Several members of Congress, including both senators from Virginia, had lobbed a volley to fall just short of the White House, a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, warning that only a permanent exemption of U.S. troops from the court's jurisdiction would satisfy Congress. A timid attempt to paper things over with a one-year exemption would be unacceptable. But by last night, only George Allen seemed to have stomach left for the fight.

The fix was in. Ambassadors of the world's major powers - Norway, Mauritius and Ireland, just for starters - prepared to praise Washington for a graceful surrender. The administration, for its part, continued to insist that the surrender was not really a surrender. "The idea that there is a reversal really couldn't be further from the truth," said a spokesman for the National Security Council, keeping a straight face. "This is not a reversal."

Of course not. Who are we going to believe, the White House, or our own eyes and ears?

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

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