To buttress crumbling support for his interventionist policy, President Bush played his ace of trumps, sending his most popular champion, Condi Rice, to the Southern Baptist Convention.
If seven standing ovations and 20,000 Christians bursting forth into a spontaneous signing of "God Bless America" at the close is any measure, the secretary succeeded splendidly in her speech.
Yet in carrying forward the faux-Churchillian, stand-up-to-the-isolationists theme of the State of the Union, Condi employed a device readily recognizable to any student of rhetoric.
She presented the good Baptist folks with the false alternative. America has a choice, she said: to stand by a courageous president or to conduct a cowardly retreat from the challenges of our time:
"Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the choice before our country, before us as Americans. Will we lead in the world or will we withdraw? Will we rise to the challenges of our time or will we shrink from them?"
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler seems to have been well briefed on whom Condi was targeting.
"Rice did not specifically refer to isolationists, but her inference was clear. ...
"President Bush first raised concerns about isolationism in his State of the Union Address this year. Since then, the outrage over the potential sale of U.S. port operations to a Dubai-based company and the drive to build a wall along the border with Mexico have added to the worries of administration officials. They fear that it could result in demands even from the president's strongest traditional supporters to pull out troops from Iraq and Afghanistan."
Why, one wonders, do President Bush and Rice not tell us who these dreaded isolationists are and how they could conceivably seduce the Southern Baptists into questioning Bush policy?
The truth: If Southern Baptists are peeling off from the Bush coalition for moral imperialism and democracy crusades, the reason may not be that they wish to flee the world, but that they see the Bush-Rice policy as failing. At a great cost in blood and treasure, we seem to be reaping a rising harvest of hatred.
The same day the report on Rice's speech appeared in the Post, The Washington Times reported on a remarkable rise of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. In a wide-ranging survey of opinion on Iran's nuclear program and Islamic attitudes toward the United States, a group called Terror Free Tomorrow, which boasts John McCain among others on its board, reported that:
-- Seven in 10 Pakistanis favor Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons.
-- Two of three Pakistanis have a negative opinion of the United States, a figure that rises to 71 percent among citizens of NATO ally Turkey and an astonishing 89 percent in Saudi Arabia.
-- Two-thirds of all Saudis, Turks and Pakistanis believe those mocking cartoons of Muhammad printed in the Danish newspaper and reprinted across Europe reflect Western hostility toward their faith.
Did isolationists create such animosity toward America among our closest allies in the Muslim world? How? And who are they?
Answer: No such beasts exist. The people who have produced such results for America are the decision-makers themselves -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice -- and their advisers, the neoconservatives.
To understand who is truly responsible for a situation where a U.S. secretary of state has to go before a convention of religious conservatives to try to hold their support for a president they put in office, Rice might ask herself some questions.
Is it the isolationists who cannot end a column or commentary without howling for new pre-emptive strikes on "Islamofascists"? Was it isolationists who reveled in those Danish cartoons, reprinting them and declaring them to be a fine expression of Western values?
Was it isolationists who sent an army storming into Baghdad in search of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist, resulting in tens of thousands of Iraqi army and civilian dead, three bloody years of "collateral damage" to Iraqi women and children, and the inevitable horrors of guerrilla war, such as Abu Ghraib and Haditha?
Is it isolationists who are supporting Israel's strangulation of aid-dependent Palestinians, the purpose of which was wittily described by Sharon sidekick Dov Weisglass: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger"?
Presumably, the hungry Palestinian children are to pressure Hamas to recognize Israel. One wonders. Do the good Christian folks gathered at Greensboro, N.C., think what we are doing to these people is a Godly thing to do?
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are making a comeback. In Iraq, the new democratic government Bush celebrated in his surprise visit is considering amnesty for Sunni insurgents who only killed Americans.
Why did Condi rip into isolationism at the Baptist convention?
Because it is a less daunting task than defending the fruits of a foolish interventionism that are now lying right in front of us.