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Robert Novak: Wrong, But Still a Patriot By: David Keene
The Hill | Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Novak may be wrong, but he’s a true patriot

When a nation is at war, there’s a tendency among those who support it to suspect that those who opposed it before the shooting started did so either because they were secretly biased in favor of the enemy or have somehow come to hate their own country. There is a corollary tendency among those who opposed war before it actually breaks out to rally round the troops, regardless of their real feelings about its wisdom.

These tendencies are human and rational. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), for example, who was attacking President Bush’s competence, judgment and motives before U.S. forces crossed the Iraqi border, was all over the place afterwards, assuring us that he supports the troops and prays for victory. Pat Buchanan, who attacked Bush and his strategists, has done the same thing, as has conservative columnist Robert Novak.

This doesn’t mean that any of them feel any differently about the wisdom of the war today than they did before Bush “pulled the trigger” last week or that once the shooting stops they won’t reiterate the objections they had voiced beforehand. Indeed, if they felt as strongly before the war as they all suggested, it would be dishonest to do anything else later. That does not, however, make illegitimate the position they now take.

It’s perfectly true that, for self-serving reasons, some of Bush’s political critics might today be overstating their enthusiasm for the mission on which our troops are embarked. But they are supporting them and that’s important. They are not in the streets with protesters likening Bush to Hitler or echoing the anti-Semitism of those who actually do seem to think saving “uncle” Saddam is preferable to protecting ourselves and our friends in the region from whatever lunacy he might come up with next week or next month.

While I count myself among those who from the beginning have believed the action we are now taking is fully justified, I’ve never believed that men and women of good will couldn’t disagree either on the threat posed by today’s Iraq or the proper way to deal with it. Those who questioned the strength of the evidence that Saddam had either the weapons we suspected he had or his ability to truly threaten us with them had a point. It looks as if they were wrong, but the early public evidence could lead one to the conclusion they drew from it.

What’s more, those who were concerned about the United States taking on a job that could weaken us internally and lead to a fatal over-extension abroad had and continue to have an even better point. We may be moving into Iraq seeking to disarm an enemy and, incidentally, free her people, but there are those in and out of the administration who would have us stay to appoint quasi-colonial military or civilian governors to build a new Iraq. It is thus that liberators become empire builders and should, in my opinion, be resisted by thoughtful conservatives.

The debate over whether we should have adopted the policy we are now pursuing was a legitimate one and the continuing debate about what all this will mean in the post-Saddam world is going to prove to be even more important. It is a debate that won’t divide us all along neat ideological lines, but it is one that must nonetheless be joined.

And it is going to be far too important to be decided on the basis of the sort of ad hominem attacks launched against Novak this week by former White House speechwriter David Frum. Frum is among those who can’t seem to accept the fact that those who disagree with him may not be in league with the devil. His vituperative attack on one of the nation’s most respected conservative columnists marks the man as neither conservative nor intellectually respectable. Like many other conservatives, I happen to disagree with Novak’s analysis of what’s going on in the Middle East. But to suggest, as does Frum, that his disagreement with Bush’s Iraq policy stems from a hatred of the president and the country is scandalously and irresponsibly absurd.

Frum seems to know little of Novak’s background or history, but anyone who can read a newspaper should know that Novak was opposing this nation’s enemies before Frum was even born. One can question the man’s judgment and sometimes even his facts, but to suggest that Novak is no different from the crypto-fascists and Marxists organizing “peace” rallies these days says a lot more about David Frum than it does about Bob Novak.
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental affairs firm.

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental affairs firm.

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