In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush promised that he would not "wait on events while dangers gather." The United States, he vowed, "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
The phrase "wait on events" was an indirect reference to a French general in 1940 who was asked what he was doing to fight back against the Nazi invasion and replied that he was "awaiting events" before forming his strategy. Bush was promising that, unlike that general, America after September 11 would not wait to act until it was too late.
Here we are, four and a half years later, and we find ourselves awaiting events.
British police and intelligence recently thwarted a major terrorist attack, but we don't know what other plots are being planned or when al-Qaeda will attempt to strike next. We don't know, because the government of Pakistan, where most of the remnants of al-Qaeda have regrouped, has stopped trying to assert its authority in the tribal areas where al-Qaeda has popular support. Why? Perhaps, as Mark Steyn points out, it is because they're not as afraid of American action as they used to be. So they cooperate a bit with our law-enforcement efforts, but they won't wipe out al-Qaeda's remaining base of support. Will that allow al-Qaeda to successfully carry out a future attack? We are waiting to find out.
North Korea--also not as afraid of us as they used to be--may now be planning a nuclear test. Why now? Perhaps it is to showcase their wares to a prominent Middle Eastern buyer. The world has been focused on Iran's attempt to enrich its own nuclear bomb fuel from scratch--a process that gives us a few months or even a year to fret over what to do about it. But if the North Koreans begin to think they can get away with it, what is to stop them from selling Iran a big lump of plutonium, giving Iran an immediate nuclear weapons capability? We're waiting to find out how much of a risk that is.
And that brings us to the ominous date of August 22--today. This the date on which Iran promised to give an answer to the West about its nuclear weapons program. It also happens to be a date with apocalyptic significance in the Muslim calendar, prompting speculation that Iran may have a very ominous "answer" in mind. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Maybe Iran will simply dismiss Western demands, as it certainly seems inclined to do after Hezbollah's victory in Southern Lebanon. The point is that we've been waiting to find out.
Speaking of Lebanon, the Israelis are also awaiting events, sitting passively in Southern Lebanon while they wait to see in what way Iran and Syria will rearm Hezbollah, and how long it will take for Hezbollah to regroup and strike again. Even Israel's leaders, who sought out the current cease-fire, seem resigned to a resumption in the fighting. They're just waiting for the other side to take the initiative and break the truce.
In Iraq, America is waiting on Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shiite militias. We know they are now the driving force behind the sectarian civil war brewing in Iraq, but we have yet to make a serious attempt to dismantle them. Part of the problem is the political leadership in Baghdad, which has refused to authorize an attempt to clean out Sadr's stronghold in Baghdad. But why should the Iraqis stick their necks out to oppose Iran's man in Baghdad, when we are letting Iran position itself as the region's rising power?
I don't mean to put all the blame on President Bush. He has real achievements to show in taking the offensive against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya (which agreed to dismantle its nuclear program after we invaded Iraq). But that still leaves Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, the power behind Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, and a nation with a nuclear weapons program far more advanced than anything Saddam Hussein could boast.
And when it comes to Iran, Bush is awaiting events. He's waiting on their response to Condoleezza Rice's latest attempt at diplomatic appeasement--a deal so foolishly generous that we have to hope that Iran rejects it. He's waiting on the French and Europeans to risk sending peacekeepers on a doomed mission in Southern Lebanon. He's waiting on the Iraqi government maybe, someday to agree to stand up against Sadr.
But Bush is not alone. Congress is still locked in a debate over whether we should retreat from Iraq--a bruising debate that leaves our politicians with little enthusiasm for confronting a greater threat from next door. The left feels they can get away with their push for surrender in Iraq and appeasement of Iran, because a significant segment of the public has gone back to sleep. Friday's Washington Post points to evidence that married women with children--so-called "security moms," who backed the Republicans after September 11--have gone back to regarding gas prices, not the War on Terrorism, as the most important political issue.
If our leaders are acting as if they are awaiting events, ceding the initiative to our enemies in the War on Terrorism, it is because the American people are awaiting events.
Writers on the pro-war right have begun to wake up to the fact that "Iran is the new Nazi Germany" and to realize that it needs to be confronted.
But it is very late. We've been waiting on events for far too long already, and the need to argue the case against Iran--and to rouse America from a relapse into apathy and resignation--is urgent.
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