Regarding Iraq, the president, a baseball man, has been lucky. But as baseball's Branch Rickey said, luck is the residue of design.
In two eventful weeks, the president's policy of regime change has been advanced, in part inadvertently, by the uncoordinated activities of three unlikely parties -- France, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Secretary of State Colin Powell. The consequence is that many critics of the president's policy have been intellectually disarmed.
France stumbled usefully when Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin declared that force would be unnecessary because Iraq's programs for developing weapons of mass destruction have been "largely blocked, even frozen." Leave aside the semantic latitude in "largely," and the opacity of "blocked" and "frozen." De Villepin was conceding the existence of forbidden programs, accepting their continuing existence and thus asserting France's indifference to U.N. Resolution 1441.
The bloody-mindedness of France, which put Powell through weeks of torturous negotiation of 1441, may have propelled Powell to the brink of Rumsfeldian impatience with "old Europe." Concerning which: Are soon-to-be inductees into the European Union -- Poland and the Czech Republic, for example -- less authentically European than France? Is that written in the European constitution? No, there is no constitution because "Europe" remains a geographic rather than a political denotation.
What is the pedigree of the idea that France, more than, say, the United Kingdom or Italy -- whose leaders visited the White House last week -- speaks for "Europe" more than do the eight nations whose leaders on Wednesday endorsed U.S. policy? (The combined population of Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland is 232 million. The combined population of France and Germany is 143 million.) France has a population significantly smaller than, and shrinking relative to, the populations of, among many other nations, Vietnam and Egypt. France has a per capita GDP smaller than that of Denmark or Japan, among others. So why should France referee the game of nations?
European critics of the president's policy spent the past six months urging deference to Powell. Now what, Powell having said there are "connections" between the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda? Critics of the president's policy, who made recourse to the U.N. the sovereign imperative, are now reduced to saying that military action is not justified even by Iraq's comprehensive violation of 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council just 12 weeks ago.
Many of these critics sought to paralyze the president by leashing him to the United Nations. Now they are discovering that Bush is holding the leash. It is because only he pays it the compliment -- a barbed one -- of insisting that the United Nations surely meant what it said about what constitutes a "material breach" of 1441. Is this Bush insistence what Sen. John Kerry, who wants Bush's job, considers Bush's "blustering unilateralism"?
Do those who urge giving U.N. inspectors more time disagree with Prime Minister Tony Blair's charge that the 108 inspectors are opposed by Iraq's much larger "infrastructure of concealment"? Do they disagree with Britain's U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, who says that Iraq is obligated by 1441 not merely to give the inspectors "access" to places that the inspectors guess might be worth investigating but to give them "guidance" to proscribed weapons?
The president's critics demand more time for the inspectors, with their eight helicopters in a nation the size of California, to search for weapons that Blair says are being scattered "into different parts of the country." Are the president's critics even more phlegmatic than Blix?
Even he is exasperated by (among many Iraqi violations) tests of missiles with ranges exceeding 90 miles. Blix notes discrepancies -- totaling thousands of tons of lethal material -- between what Iraq is known to have had and what has been shown to have been destroyed. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz says: "When an auditor discovers discrepancies in the books, it is not the auditor's obligation to prove where the embezzler has stashed his money. It is up to the person or institution being audited to explain the discrepancy."
The president probably remembers Ted Williams's rule about hitting: "Wait, wait, wait, then quick, quick, quick." Wait to see the kind and location of the pitch, then swing quickly. Cocking the pistol aimed at Saddam Hussein -- assembling the forces -- has involved waiting. While the president has waited, events proved that his critics have lashed themselves to untenable ideas.
Luck? Yes, as Branch Rickey understood that. Next? Perhaps the quickness of America's modern military.