Bill Murchison

Has anybody noticed? We won the war.

Likewise, we're winning the war's aftermath -- only more gradually and frustratingly and expensively than anyone in his right mind would prefer.

This scarcely obviates the reality that in the conflict over Iraqi democracy, Bush, Bremer & Co. are to the Saddamists as Andy Roddick is to a junior high tennis squad. With this exception only: that no one in tennis gets murdered by gangs of die-hard extremist losers.

The persistence of the murder squads in Iraq brought President Bush before the television cameras Sunday night to set recent Iraqi events in some kind of perspective. The murder squads, especially those who blew up the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, were doubtless delighted. Their strategy all along has been to render postwar Iraq as dangerous and uncertain a place as they can make it, in the hope that, as the president put it, we will "leave Iraq before our work is done." The terrorists, he continued, "want to shake the will of the civilized world."

Of course they do. As Bush said, citing the examples of Beirut and Somalia, they claim that "if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge."

We could still run fast and hard from this one, our military successes notwithstanding. Last week, in Albuquerque, the Democratic presidential candidates smote the president hip and thigh for getting us into a Middle Eastern muddle, virtually friendless and -- you might suppose from the rhetoric -- overmatched by the murder squads. Of the commander in chief whose forces swept the Saddamists from the field, Richard Gephardt said sourly: "This president is a miserable failure."

Well, that's democracy, one supposes: the same commodity with which we are presently seeking to bless the Iraqis. These squabbles probably do us some good, by opening up issues that might otherwise stay closed.

Yet on the other hand (there is always another hand in democracy), what's needed is some serious and intelligent discussion instead of the ranting to which so many critics of the Bush strategy seem given. The point of these particular critics is to blow off strategic considerations and make Bush look as squalid and stupid as possible.

So what do the gentlemen propose specifically that we do differently? That's the thing we never hear. Turn it over to the United Nations, and get out, say some, including Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. More suggestions: Speed up the elections; create an Iraqi government; write a constitution.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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