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No Wars In '04? By: Frank J. Gaffney Jr.
Insight Magazine | Tuesday, September 16, 2003


On the eve of the second anniversary of the deadly 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush offered the country a visionary, courageous and correct assessment of the progress of the war on terror - and his strategy for waging and winning it. 

One particularly noteworthy passage in the president's address televised to the nation on Sept. 7 was his characterization of the high stakes involved in this global conflict: 

"For America, there will be no going back to the era before September the 11th, 2001 - to false comfort in a dangerous world. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness. And the surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans. We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities."

Unfortunately, this presidential affirmation of U.S. policy geared toward fighting the terrorists and their state sponsors on others' soil rather than our own is at risk of being undermined by recent actions the president has allowed to be taken in his name.

Pre-eminent among these was the decision announced recently that Secretary of State Colin Powell had been authorized by Bush to seek a U.N. Security Council mandate for postwar Iraq. At best, the effect was to signal the president's recognition that his U.S.-led liberation had failed and could only be legitimated - and salvaged - if those who had opposed it (in particular, the French, Germans, Russians, Syrians, Chinese and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan) were placated with U.S. concessions leading to new military and/or political arrangements. At worst, the signal was the United States was preparing, once again, to bail out on a difficult and costly international mission.

Matters were made worse by the coincidence of this apparent volte-face with several others. For example, Powell pointed recently to the fact that talks about North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs had taken place in the context of the six-party "framework" as evidence that the United States successfully was containing the danger that Pyongyang soon will be able to wield - exporting the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.  This claim rang all the more hollow for it being accompanied by reports that the Bush administration had decided to revert to the Clinton policy of giving Kim Jong Il financial and other rewards before North Korea demonstrably abandoned its nuclear ambitions.

There also was the decision to back away from a resolution that would have put the other imminent nuclear threat - that posed by Islamofascist Iran - before the U.N. Security Council for urgent action. Similarly, with the exception of periodic warnings from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about Syrian contributions to instability in Iraq, the Bush administration seems to have decided to give Damascus a pass. 

Then there is Saudi Arabia. As Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was scheduled to demonstrate in yet another congressional hearing on Sept. 10, the kingdom continues to contribute vast sums and cannon fodder to the terrorist organizations we are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. Yet, the Bush administration's party line remains that Riyadh is "cooperating" fully with Washington and is a reliable partner in the war on terror.

In much the same see-no-evil vein, Powell actually declared last week that "U.S. relations with China are the best they have been since President [Richard] Nixon's first visit" in 1972. This despite evidence that the Communist Chinese remain very much the "strategic competitors" the Bush administration confronted upon taking office. This is thanks to, among other things, their continuing nuclear buildup and proliferation, threats on Taiwan, life support for North Korea, trade-devastating currency manipulations and strategic mischief-making in both our own hemisphere and elsewhere.

How can one square the seeming disconnect between the firm and robust things Bush says and what his administration actually is doing on so many fronts - a disconnect unlikely to go unnoticed by our enemies?

A possible - and deeply worrying - explanation is that the president is heeding the counsel reportedly advanced of late by his political handlers. Published accounts say the most influential of these, White House adviser Karl Rove, has warned that there must be "no more wars" for the remainder of Bush's term. Grover Norquist, allowed by Rove to portray himself as a close ally, has opined publicly that "[Wars] are expensive and a drain politically. They are not political winners." According to Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, it follows that if Bush persists in engaging in them, he could doom himself to being a one-term president.

Further evidence that the Bush administration now is following what might be called the "No More War in '04" strategy was obtained last week, when an unnamed senior official told a reporter that the North Koreans could "breathe easy because we aren't going to do anything to them for 14 months." 

As Bush noted in his Sept. 7 speech, however, the alternative to our being on offense against our terrorist enemies and those who shelter, arm or otherwise support them is to be on defense. Just because we find war to be inconvenient or a "drain politically" does not mean we can avoid fighting them. It simply means we likely will wind up having to wage them, in the president's words, "again on our own streets, in our own cities."

If Bush wishes to be taken seriously - either by our foes or the American electorate - he would be well-advised to make clear that there is no daylight between his rhetoric and his policies concerning the war on terror. After all, at stake is not only his presidency but the national security.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.


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