IN A MATTER OF WEEKS, President George W. Bush has scored something of a political and diplomatic trifecta, calling the bluffs of the Democrats, the international community, and Saddam Hussein alike. By delivering a tough speech to the United Nations and by challenging Congress, he has gained the upper hand on his critics and his enemies, setting the stage for the next phase in the War on Terror — the liberation of Iraq.
The first step was exposing the political dishonesty of Congressional Democrats, who for months have offered mealy-mouthed support of the war, pledging their commitment while at the same time dragging their heels. Party leaders were clamoring for a vote on the Iraq question, and Bush wisely gave it to them, as I recommended in this column three weeks ago.
Democrats have now been thrust into the awkward position of having to take a real stand. They must choose between the appeasement-minded pacifism of their base and the overwhelming majority of American people who are serious about winning the war and thwarting the next 9-11. And with the war once again rightly dominating public discussion, the faux issues that Democrats had hoped to stress in the fall campaign, like corporate accounting and Medicare expansion, are now off the table. After all, who’s the greater threat to America, Arthur Andersen or Saddam Hussein?
For Democrats, the war debate — which they asked for, never dreaming that Bush would comply — brings some of the party’s uglier elements into public view, specifically the hate-America left. Already, in the spirit of Cynthia McKinney, some Democratic House members are playing the conspiracy-theory card, alleging that the war isn’t about national security, but oil. This too, can only benefit Bush. While the absurdists might delight the NPR crowd, they only serve to reinforce to the rest of the American public, just in time for the mid-term elections, that the Democratic Party is not serious about national security.
The combination of wanting to usher away the crazies and turn public discussion back to domestic policy will most likely drive Democrats to seek a quick authorization of the war effort. For all the Democrats’ bluster about Iraq these past few months, polls show two-thirds of likely voters supporting another war on Iraq. It’s highly doubtful that Democrats will put themselves on the wrong side of history again, as they did when most voted against authorizing the 1991 Gulf War.
New York Senator Hillary Clinton has already offered her backing, although leaving some wiggle room should the politics of the situation change. “If it’s the right thing to do,” the former First Lady told the Washington Post, “I’m going to support the President.” Fellow Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, a likely 2004 presidential contender, is talking about getting unanimous support for a resolution in the Senate, albeit one that’s most likely contingent upon UN support.
No problem there, Bush has called the UN's bluff, too. By making an ironclad case that the organization's credibility depends on its ability to enforce its resolutions, then adding that he will proceed with or without the international community's blessing, the President has given America's allies little reason to continue their obstinacy. If the war is going to happen with or without them, they might as well give up their pointless protesting get on the winning side.
Now, after months of opposition, there is suddenly some conciliatory talk coming from America's European allies, even the perpetually irritating French. Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly insisted that under no circumstances would it permit American invasion to operate from its soil, has backed off. Jordan has warned Iraq to implement Security Council resolutions, not that anyone seriously believes it will. And on Saturday, the Arab League issued a strong advisory urging Hussein to welcome back UN weapons inspectors, which, in theory, he has agreed to do.
That's because Bush has called Hussein's bluff, too.
Any hope that Hussein might have had that domestic and international opposition would sink Bush's war plans has now been laid to rest. The dictator consequently has little choice but to feign as much cooperation as he can - not because it will actually derail the war effort, but because it might just buy him some time.
The Iraqi charade is under way: First Hussein will invite in UN weapons inspectors, but only after lengthy negotiations that postpone their arrival for as long as possible. Then he will try to conceal his weapons of mass destruction from them, and let them waste some time inspecting innocuous sites. Finally, when they start looking in the right places, he'll threaten to evict them all over again, spurring another international brouhaha and ridiculous attempts to negotiate with a scoundrel who has never negotiated in good faith.
The delay tactics won't be nearly as effective as Hussein might think. Political and tactical considerations make it impossible for an invasion to take place before November anyway. Meanwhile, a repeat performance of Hussein's shenanigans will only embolden international resolve against him. Either the inspectors will discover his cache of weapons of mass destruction (doubtful) or they will be denied a fair chance to look for them (likely). Either way, Hussein will have sealed his fate.
In the end, Bush will get everything he could have hoped for: a UN authorization, Congressional support, and Saddam Hussein's demise.
Oh yes, and one other thing: big wins for the Republicans in November — not because the President will have unfairly "politicized" the war, but because the American people will choose the party most likely to deliver them from the threat of international terror. By brilliantly masterminding a political and diplomatic strategy for an impending invasion of Iraq, Bush's GOP should have little difficulty laying claim to that mantle.