Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2004/ 26 Tishrei, 5765

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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A schoolyard brawl, and none too soon | By George, I think he's got it.

The president has been shelling the corn this week. Ginning cotton. Telling it with the bark on. Taking it to the bank. Choose your cliché.

All in plain English, with neither nuance nor evasion.

"Last week in our debate," he told a boisterous crowd in Pennsylvania, "[John Kerry] once again came down firmly on every side of the Iraq war. He stated that Saddam Hussein was a threat and that America had no business removing that threat. Senator Kerry said our soldiers and Marines are not fighting for a mistake, but called the liberation of Iraq a 'colossal error.' He said we need to do more to train Iraqis, but he said we shouldn't be spending so much money over there. He said he wants to hold a summit meeting — so he can invite other countries to join what he calls 'the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.' He said terrorists are pouring across the Iraqi border, but said that fighting those terrorists is a diversion from the war on terror. You hear all that, and you can understand why somebody would make a face."

Indeed, if the president lays it down like that tonight he might bloody a nose or black an eye, and his friends will excuse his making a few faces.

This is the George W. Bush his disappointed friends expected to show up for the debate last week, the blunt and angry campaigner of '02 who restored his party's control of Congress in the off year when presidents lose congressional seats. This is the George W. Bush the Kerry campaign dreaded.

Monsieur Kerry lobbed a hand grenade at the president yesterday, and George W. lobbed it right back. He accused the president of weaving "a pattern of deception" about the threat from Saddam Hussein, having cherry-picked the report from the CIA's Iraq Survey Group that confirmed what everybody, including the president, already knows: There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, either stockpiled or under construction. The intelligence was wrong. War is hell. The news from the front was bad. The gleeful Monsieur Kerry couldn't wait to exploit it: The president's folly had put "schoolchildren" and American troops in Iraq in grave danger. This time the monsieur, who once described American soldiers in Vietnam as war criminals, took pains to refer with unction and punctilio to U.S. troops as "our brave soldiers."

The president was properly unapologetic for doing what any responsible president would have done.

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"I believe we were right to take action," he replied. "America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison. He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction, and he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies."

Of course he could, and would, and that is exactly the point the author of the CIA report made in his report to Congress. The president had to weigh the risk that Saddam would resume his development of weapons of mass destruction once the sanctions crumbled against the hope that Saddam would somehow mellow into a lovable old uncle and give up his dream of leading a radicalized Islam, united as a criminal syndicate, against the West.

But once the United Nations sanctions dissolved (Saddam had guaranteed that result with oil-for-food bribes of the "Old Europeans" on whom John Kerry counts to defeat the terrorists), he would have been more dangerous than ever.

Monsieur Kerry says he has a "plan," but he won't or can't say what's in it. He doesn't seem to understand that America is at war, and it's no time to go AWOL. This is the give-'em-hell message that George W. must drive home tonight.

"I don't give anybody hell," Harry Truman said of his broadsides in 1948 against Tom Dewey, the overconfident front-runner coasting toward oblivion. "I just tell the truth, and they think it's hell."

Giving hell does not come naturally to high-church Republicans, who are taught from an heirloom cradle to be polite and speak softly, to mind their manners and keep their elbows off the table at all times. George W., who struggles to put nice behind him, once explained the difference between himself and his father as the difference between Phillips Andover Academy and Third Street Elementary School in Midland, Texas.

Last week George W. was too much Massachusetts prep school and not enough West Texas schoolyard. This week he returned to the schoolyard, and it shows.

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

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