Debra J. Saunders
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Because of President Bush, the world hates America. If voters elect a Democrat, the 2008 hopefuls argue, Washington will engage in more diplomacy and the world will love us.

They glom onto every news story to bolster that argument -- including the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that refuted a 2005 NIE that reported "high confidence" that Iran was working on nukes, by assessing with "high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

For years, Democrats have complained that Bush should have been more skeptical of intelligence that supported his ideology. Now they're doing the same thing, as they embrace the new NIE report as gospel.

In an interview at Stanford Law School Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad was less accepting of the new NIE. As a diplomat, Khalilzad did not engage in partisan attacks. But he did comment on the NIE's history of underestimating -- Iraqi efforts before the first Gulf War -- and overestimating -- Iraq's WMD before this war.

Khalilzad added, "This estimate is about a part of the nuclear problem of Iran. The biggest part of the nuclear problem is having the fissile material to make the bomb." No one should relax when oil-rich Iran continues uranium enrichment.

At a National Public Radio debate last week, Democratic candidates argued that Iran's actions highlight the need for more diplomacy. Diplomacy boosters cite the NIE statement that the Iran nuclear program "was halted primarily in response to international pressure."

Hmmm. Which would present greater "international pressure" -- a war in Iraq or a U.N. resolution? According to the Washington Post, "senior intelligence officials said it is possible that Libya's decision to halt its nuclear program and the war in Iraq were also factors, but said there was no direct evidence of either." Right. There's no direct evidence, other than the fact that Libya also happened to do the same thing right after the start of the war. No wonder conservatives are suspicious.

An Afghan who first came here as a high-school exchange student near Modesto, Calif., Khalilzad is living proof that many in the world love America. He "fell in love" with Americans, how "welcoming" they are and the way they interact with others. He can't imagine another large country that would have granted him such opportunity.

Rather than hate us, Khalilzad, also former ambassador to Afghanistan, noted that the Afghans "couldn't have enough of us. The only fear that they have is that we will abandon them."

As former ambassador to Iraq, Khalilzad saw Shiites and Kurds thankful for U.S. troops in Iraq, while recent efforts to reach out to Sunnis have improved how all Iraqis look at U.S. troops.

What would happen to America's image abroad if U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq? Khalilzad answered: "That would be a disaster in my mind." And: "Weakness is very provocative."

Many fear violence between Sunni and Shiites, Turks and Kurds, and extremist Iraqis and moderate Iraqis who cooperated with U.S. troops.

Sen. Chris Dodd was in San Francisco Sunday. When I asked him what would happen to America's image abroad if we withdrew from Iraq in, say, 18 months, Dodd observed that nothing is certain, but: "I think we enhance the image."

The troops surge has not brought about political reconciliation. The world, Dodd surmised, would respect a nation that recognizes it is "traveling down the wrong road."

That is the fundamental difference between the pro-war and anti-war camps on Iran and Iraq. One side argues that Americans must show themselves big enough to admit a mistake. The other side believes that losing doesn't win many friends or mollify many enemies.

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Debra J. Saunders


 
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