The president's speech

George Will

3/19/2003 12:00:00 AM - George Will

WASHINGTON--The president demonstrated Monday night that he understands a tested political axiom: If you do not like the news, make some of your own.

He had allowed for pointless diplomacy to proceed too long, thereby dissipating some of his principal asset, his aura of serene decisiveness. He did this March 6 with his peculiar presidential speech disguised as a press conference, and then with the strange hours in the Azores. So Monday night he delivered perhaps the first presidential speech directed almost entirely at a foreign audience. At several such audiences, actually.

To Saddam Hussein, his two sons and other satraps, the president said: Get out of Dodge by sundown Wednesday.

To the incredibly inflated United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, who earlier Monday had said that a war without U.N. approval would be illegitimate, the president reasserted America's ``sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security.''

To the Iraqi people, who could listen to a broadcast of a simultaneous translation of his words, he said the war is against ``the lawless men who rule your country'' with ``torture chambers and rape rooms.''

To Iraqi officers he said: ``Your fate will depend on your actions.'' Do not fight ``for a dying regime.'' And he warned that the Nuremberg defense--``I was just following orders''--would be unavailing at the war crimes trials that await officers who order the use of weapons of mass destruction ``against anyone, including the Iraqi people.''

Those last four words were crucial because, says Thomas Donnelly, a specialist in military matters for the American Enterprise Institute, ``All Saddam Hussein can do is make things ugly.'' That is, he cannot pit his military against the Allies', so he can only be consequential--prevailing is out of the question--by sowing chaos indiscriminately.

Speaking of indiscriminate chaos, many elements of the Democratic Party, including most of its base and many of its most conspicuous leaders, seem deranged, unhinged by the toxic fumes of hatred and contempt they emit for the president. From what does this arise? It cannot just be Florida, the grievance that Democrats, assiduous cultivators of victimhood, love to nurse. No, many Democrats' problem, which threatens to disqualify their party from presidential responsibilities for a generation, is their incontinent love of snobbery and nostalgia--condescension toward a president they consider ignorant, and a longing for the fun of antiwar days of yore.

The Vietnam antiwar movement began to burgeon in 1965. It reached its apogee in 1972 with the capture of the Democratic Party and the nomination of the movement's choice for president. When that nominee, George McGovern, proceeded to lose 49 states, the movement, with the imperviousness to evidence that fanaticism confers, was unshaken in its belief that it was the moral majority. That derangement is now being reprised in the likes of Tom Daschle.

The Senate minority leader is the most prominent national Democrat and will remain such until a presidential nominee is chosen. Daschle, who five years ago voted with a unanimous Senate to endorse regime change as U.S. policy regarding Iraq, and who 5 months ago voted with a majority of Senate Democrats for a resolution that did not mention the need for French or U.N. approval in authorizing the use of force--the incredible shrinking Daschle from George McGovern's South Dakota--now says that the president of the United States, not the president of Iraq, is the cause of war.

Monday, a few hours before the president spoke, Daschle said the president had ``failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war.'' Well.

Presumably Daschle meant that Bush has failed to secure the support of the French and a majority of other Security Council members for enforcing the plain meaning of Resolution 1441, which the French co-authored and which the Security Council unanimously adopted. But had the president succeeded, the result would have been the ``serious consequences'' 1441 calls for: war. The French and everyone else, including Daschle--the regime-change-endorsing, use-of-force-authorizing Daschle--understood that.

So Daschle's position is: America is ``forced to war'' because presidential diplomacy failed to produce a broader coalition for war. With that descent into absurdity, Daschle would have forfeited his reputation for seriousness, if he had one.

There are many honorable exceptions--although with varying degrees of clarity--among the Democrats. Presidential candidates Joseph Lieberman and Dick Gephardt particularly stand out as plausible presidents.

As for Daschle, he has become the Democrats' Trent Lott, with two differences. Lott was embarrassing about 1948, not 2003. And his fellow Republicans were embarrassed.