This has been a tough week for President Bush, at least you would think so reading the news.
His poll numbers are dropping, his critics are emboldened and he and his
foreign policy team are eating, well, if not crow, certainly a healthy dose
of humble pie as they scamper to the United Nations looking for the support
they were extremely reluctant to acknowledge they needed.
Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates for president are accusing him of all
sorts of nasty things: incompetence, fiscal irresponsibility, failure in
Iraq, and, even worse, failure in the war on terrorism. They have basically
called him a liar and apparently hold him responsible for everything that
goes wrong in the country, from the closing of schools in St. Louis, to,
presumably, every job lost in any city or small town in the country.
The Middle East appears ready to explode again as Israel gets ready to push
Arafat into exile. North Korea appears ready to test missiles that could
reach the United States and Richard Cheney, the brains of the whole operation,
is nowhere to be seen these days, apparently too busy working deals for his
buddies at Halliburton to be bothered with the nation’s business. Or so the
Democrats would have you believe.
Meanwhile, Richard Cohen in the Washington Post is piling on. (He might consider writing campaign scripts for Howard Dean). Let me quote him:
“Bush's foreign policy is a shambles -- a war against the wrong enemy (Iraq
and not worldwide terrorism), for the wrong reasons (where are those weapons
of mass destruction?), a debacle in postwar Iraq (who are those terrorists?),
a Middle Eastern road map to nowhere (wasn't Iraq going to make it all so
easy?) and a string of statements about nearly everything (the cost of rebuilding
Iraq, for instance) that have proved either untrue or just plain dumb. To
make matters worse, truth-tellers have been punished while liars and fog
merchants have remained in office.”
Some of the criticism is justified. And some of it is surely not. And it
might be worth taking a moment, for those of us on the conservative side,
to sort out the fair and unfair criticisms.
It is fair to say that President Bush and his team underestimated the need
for international support. I, for one, felt we should have immediately asked
for international troops to help keep the peace while our soldiers continued
to prosecute the war. We could have moved more quickly and less arrogantly
in dealing with the international community, no question about it. However,
I do not think the rejectionists who opposed the war are covered in glory
either. They continue to be as petty as they accuse us of being. Let us hope
they come along for their own sake, if not ours.
Many of us are troubled, much as we respect the Vice President, by the Halliburton
connection. It is only fair to investigate how this firm was chosen to handle
such a huge amount of work in Iraq. Estimates put the number at $1.7 billion
worth of contracts, handling everything from construction to logistics for
the troops. Privatization has its benefits; so does transparency, especially
where American tax dollars are concerned.
Finally, I think it is fair to ask if everything has been done within reason
to protect our ports and airports. Are there steps that can be taken to better
the security in key, vulnerable locations? I don’t know the answer, but I
do know the question must be asked repeatedly.
On the Other Hand
But frankly, much of the rest of the criticism is just pre-election year blather.
Let us remember that we are less than four months into the post-invasion
phase of the war in Iraq. Four months? I don’t mean to be overly partisan
here, but as one commentator has said, it took Mrs. Clinton longer than that
to find files concerning Whitewater that were right next to her office.
Let us also consider the war itself. Can anyone honestly suggest that it
was not only a success, but a brilliant one? Every casualty is a tragedy,
no question about it, but anyone who would have said six months into the
war that our losses would be about 300 would probably have been lampooned
by the war’s opponents. Yes, it is a nasty business this war, but that is
the nature of all wars. And we lost ten times that number of people in a
single morning two years ago. Lest we have forgotten.
I am also amazed at those who suggest that somehow Iraq was the wrong war.
Saddam Hussein was neck deep in sponsoring terrorism. He had started two
wars, and frankly had a heck of a lot to do with this one because of his
total defiance of UN resolutions and inspection teams. He was a brutal dictator
who, left to his own devices, would have surely done everything in his power
to cause problems for the United States and its allies. Reports from Iraq
after 9/11 were not reassuring. The inner circle in Iraq was gleeful.
Why Saddam? Because 20 years of his outlaw regime was enough, that’s why.
Because in the post 9/11 world, there were good reasons to not standby and
let him go about his business thwarting the very agreement he signed at the
end of the first Gulf War, which, I might remind you, he started in unprovoked
and brutal fashion.
Can you imagine the outcry if he had been left in power and had been able
to slip weapons to terrorists, which then resulted in another 9/11? The president
would have been threatened with impeachment by the very critics who now suggest
Saddam might have been better left alone to torture and kill a few more thousand
of his own people. I will not even get into the horrible state we left those
people in more than 10 years ago, but I, for one, remain convinced it was
the right thing to do for all of these reasons.
As for the weapons of mass destruction, I do not know whether they exist
or not. I do know that every intelligence agency in the world, including
the UN inspectors, believed they did exist. I do know that Saddam refused
to cooperate with those inspectors and conspired endlessly to thwart them.
I do know that he had months to either hide or destroy or export to neighboring
countries whatever weapons he might have had. So the jury is still out, and
if we were wrong, and it turns out they did not exist, I still believe the
regime would have had to have been faced, soon or later. Paying terrorists
to kill is not innocent behavior.
Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has been seriously disrupted. Two years later, there
has not been a terrorist attack on American soil and many of the top leaders
in the group have been captured. Who would have dared hope for this two years
ago? I doubt anyone would have bet that a month would pass before another
attack, much less two years.
Is our fiscal house in order? Of course not. In times of war and major crisis,
how could it be? But there are plenty of healthy signs. Growth is up, the
market is rebounding, and Americans are made of sterner stuff than we were
two years ago, not as easy to shake, I suspect, and more resilient than most
of our enemies realize. I would like to see the president tighten his belt,
but I think he is right that our spending today must be focused not on social
programs, but on national defense. If states have funding problems, then
their leaders must go to the people and justify the need for additional taxes.
Or for further cuts. That is what self government is all about, not passing
every problem off to a federal government understandably preoccupied with
war and peace issues.
After 9/11, I wrote in my hometown paper that we were about to embark on
a long and difficult war. I even suggested that this war against terrorism
represented our generation’s World War II. To his credit, President Bush
never promised easy victory. He never said there would not be sacrifices.
He never suggested that the war would even be won during his term in office.
We have entered a new era, he said several times, and the war will be long
and difficult and dangerous.
The President has stayed the course despite some fairly hefty criticism that
is mostly undeserved. Who knows, he might even lose the election in 2004,
but I suspect he would rather lose doing what is right, than win doing what
would appease his critics. He probably still carries the mementos shared
with him after 9/11. Perhaps he looks at them daily, as he goes about the
difficult job of sending our young people into harm’s way. I hope so.
I don’t think he is a perfect man or that he has all the answers. I do know
that he has not been asleep on the job, hoping the hard choices would pass
him by, which I am not sure can be said of his predecessor. He has made the
tough choices and I believe, with a little prayer and a little humility,
he will be vindicated. In 2004. And in the retrospective glance of
George Shadroui has been published
in more than two dozen newspapers and magazines, including National
Review and Frontpagemag.com.