Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2003/ 13 Elul, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Panzers, pop guns and easy riders | Colin Powell deserves a Purple Heart and maybe even a Bronze Star, not for his service in Vietnam or even as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but for his heroism on the Franco-German front in the second Iraqi campaign.

He's taken more enemy fire than any American general since Stonewall Jackson.

When George W. Bush sent him back to the United Nations last week in pursuit of a resolution asking the chocolate makers and their friends to put up or shut up, to take some responsibility for rebuilding Iraq and planting democracy in the desert, the secretary of state, understanding what being a good soldier is all about, got aboard the shuttle to New York City without complaint.

He, like the commander in chief, knew there was not the slightest chance that the freeloaders, shirkers and easy riders at the U.N. would lend a hand. He had to cheerfully ignore their insults and pretend to accept at face value, as diplomats must, the lie that the friends of peace want justice and freedom.

Messrs. Bush and Powell can't even expect the chocolate makers to stifle themselves while doing nothing. Carping is what they do best. But by going through the motions of offering the United Nations the opportunity to contribute the United States can make it abundantly clear that the unreasonable presidents and prime ministers are those who speak with forked tongues with foreign accents. That's the plan, anyway.

Seeking U.N. approval is only about symbolism. Neither the French nor the Germans will contribute troops; the very idea makes Gerhard Schroeder "want to puke," as if he had just dined on tripes a la mode de Caen in Jacques Chirac's kitchen. Holding out the begging bowl to the likes of these worthies only makes the United States a figure of fun, and it's futile besides.

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The Bush White House is stung, as any White House would be, by the drumbeat of criticism that things are falling apart in Iraq, that the coalition is on the run, taking massive casualties from a native population in full-throat revolt. This is media nonsense, of course, but it's quickly becoming public perception and there may even be those in the White House who are beginning to believe it.

Republicans always flinch at such partisan scolding, particularly on the eve of political campaigns. The conventional Republican campaign mode is to reassure the voters that "we're Republicans, but we're not as bad as you think we are." It's never effective, but it beats a stick in the eye.

The Iraqis, few of whom are students of American politics, will inevitably take the climbdown as evidence of wavering and loss of will from a president who only yesterday landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in combat flight fatigues, daring the Ba'athist thugs in Baghdad and Tikrit to "bring 'em on." We left them to the mercy of Saddam Hussein and his killers once before. "The Americans," as the late Hafez Assad mocked us on that dreary occasion, "are short of breath."

George W., unfortunately, is the leader of a nation not short of breath but with a short attention span, impatient to get it done and to move on to something more interesting, like the Kobe Bryant trial or the Laci Peterson murder. Karl Rove has to shudder at the prospect of calling up thousands of National Guardsmen and reservists in towns across America on the eve of a presidential campaign year. Far better to recruit Turks, Indians and Pakistanis, even at the price of lunching on crow in the delegates' commissary.

The irony, as George W. reminded the nation Sunday night, is that the cleanup of Iraq is not actually going badly. The Kurds have their act smartly together already in the north, the 101st Airborne Division has policed Mosul and environs successfully and the 1st Marine Division only last week turned over wide reaches of central Iraq to the Poles and the multinationals (and haven't suffered a combat death all summer). More than 20,000 foreign soldiers already serve at the side of the Americans and the British in Iraq, and serve without complaint over a vast territory. So it's not as if more foreign troops are actually crucial.

But happy news is rarely news, and bad drives out good. Better to send Colin Powell to face the German panzers and the French popguns. He has been there before.

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

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