2003-04-05 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

By Stewart Mirsky
The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart Mirsky

By Stuart Mirsky

By the time you read this, the "fog of war" should have largely cleared. (I write these columns well in advance of publication so it's always a bit of a challenge to "prognosticate" correctly, especially when you're not embedded with the troops!)  All the voices bemoaning the "failed U.S. military plan" should have now been stilled, Saddam should be gone or well on his way, and the Iraqis should be greeting us warmly (at least some of them) instead of throwing away their lives in a vain effort to drive us out of their newly liberated land.

From the start, I thought we were in for a messy job, cleaning out this bloody dictator. This would be no painless parade to victory despite some of the commentary we were hearing in the media pre-war. It was, in fact, something we'd avoided for more years than we should have precisely because of the risks. But the events of 9/11 were a great focuser.

Sure there are still voices out there, even today, decrying this decision, shouting that Saddam is/was not Osama, etc., etc. Even after the war commenced, this kind of rhetoric ratcheted up to new heights. Senator Tom Daschle broke new ground for a United States Senator when he slammed the President for his alleged "failed diplomacy," which supposedly brought on the war while, at the same time, continuing to aver that he did not disavow his previous vote authorizing the President to act militarily and that he'd even do it again! Talk about both sides of the mouth!

Bob Kerr of the New York Times continued to support the war but deplore the way Bush was handling it. Maureen Dowd, also of the venerable Times, continued to deplore Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld . . . even more than the war. She tends to be a little kinder toward Powell since he's the official "moderate" in the administration, a man even hardcore Bush haters like Ms. Dowd can tolerate.

Most of the Democratic presidential contenders, for their part, initially scrambled to oppose the war. Until they saw how it was going that is, and then they scrambled for cover. Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich were among the notable exceptions. They planted their flag firmly in the hardcore anti-war camp, a big bloc of the Democratic Party, and took their best shot. Hey, at least they stuck to their guns . . . so to speak.

Back in Baghdad, Peter Arnett went on state-run television and announced that the "U.S. war plan had failed," in part because the planners in the Pentagon had failed to  listen to him! And then he praised Saddam's government for its years of courtesy and discipline in the streets. Whoops, did that mean they were really good at terrorizing their civilian population?

Well, NBC, who'd hired Arnett after CNN had fired him for loose reporting about America in the Vietnam conflict, took a leaf from CNN and fired him too. It seemed a little over the top, even to them, when he told Iraqi TV just the kinds of things the Iraqi regime wanted to hear to bolster their claims with their own population. Seemed like a gratuitous contribution to the Iraqi propaganda effort, if nothing else. Worse, it wasn't even factual. The war plan that failed was even then mopping up the dreaded Republican Guard. So Arnett got a new gig with a leftwing British tabloid. Maybe now he'll get to do some investigative reporting about capitalist space aliens or something.

One fellow even declared that it was already clear that no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) had been found or would be, putting the lie to America's justification for the present action. I had to admit that that would be a problem, from my perspective. While there were plenty of good reasons for going in and cleaning out Saddam (he was a monster to his own people, a militaristic threat to the region and had given aid and comfort, and maybe something more, to the terrorists who had declared war on us), the proximate cause, the thing that really moved this country to action according to the Bush administration, was the certainty of the presence of weapons of mass destruction. If these didn't show up once we had control of the country (and as I write this it's still an open question), then our whole justification for this war would be in doubt in my view.

The recent events ought to put a lot of things in perspective for Americans. First you can't please everybody and, in a democracy, you might as well not even try. Second, sometimes the real issue is leadership, seeing what's needed and making the hard and dangerous decisions that no amount of polling and debate can ever convert into across-the-board consensus. If you wait for consensus, you'd never be able to do anything! Third, there are some folks out there who will think America is wrong no matter what we try to do. Our "friends" in Europe and, especially, in the land of the Eiffel Tower have shown us where they really stand . . . at least until they feel threatened again by some new Soviet wannabes.

The altered situation in the Middle East will now call for serious attention from Washington. But it also gives us some new opportunities to change the terms of present debates. Bush will take a tough stand with Israel and Israel will have to go along. The President is on a roll and he will want to demonstrate his commitment and sincerity to the Arab world. It's time to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fairly . . . for both sides. It's also time to put other terrorist regimes on notice that they can no longer offer aid and comfort to those who would declare war on us. America is not going to roll over for every two-bit barbarian who thinks he has a beef with us and wants to express it with a bomb or worse. Bush has won the chance to re-shape the international agenda. I have the distinct impression he intends to use it.  

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