He keeps on getting the job done

Posted: Jan 29, 2002 12:00 AM
In a new series on how the United States geared up to fight the terrorist war, the Washington Post quotes President Bush as saying, of his reaction to news that a second airplane had hit the World Trade Center: "I made up my mind at that moment that we were going to war." No "Lordy-lordys," no "Oh, s!"; no huddles with campaign strategists and spinmeisters. Instead, a straightforward and hugely courageous decision: one that so far has worked as intended. Anymore questions, concerning the 82 percent approval rating, in a New York Times/CBS News poll, accorded our president for his handling of the Afghan war? A stand-up guy is what we seem, as a people, to have yearned for. It is what we seem somehow to have gotten: somebody who steps forward and gets the job done. It is a funny time right now. The Afghan theater is mostly quiet. It is possible to hear competing stories, such as Enron and the row over U.S. treatment of those sweet little lambs it captured in Afghanistan and lately transported to Guantanamo Bay. Neither story, fleeting indications to the contrary, is likely to mar the reputation of the president who kicked Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. The prisoner story is easily the sillier of the two -- a mostly overseas import that has come to impose unduly on our attention spans. The Red Cross and various organs of progressive enlightenment in Europe are shocked -- shocked -- to find us not extending to the 158 captives in Cuba the full Geneva Convention rights granted soldiers captured in wartime. Now, if U.S. personnel were lighting bamboo slivers under the captives' fingernails, that would be another matter. In fact, what goes on is a diligent search for information beyond the name-rank-and-serial-number framework. Such information, if obtained, could prevent future acts of violence or lead to the capture of terrorists lying low, waiting for their moment. There might be limits to our ability to ask for more if our captives were uniformed soldiers, the agents of a legitimate government. That is precisely what they aren't. The Taliban never amounted to anything more than a mob of zealots, Al Qaeda to a gang of homicidal maniacs. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, over the weekend, summed it up nicely: "These are the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort." The Geneva Convention was designed as a check on brutality in wartime. One could accurately say the United States, at Guantanamo Bay, is fulfilling precisely that purpose. Who, please, is expecting the American people to rise against the president on this one? As for Enron, a story of domestic manufacture: Just what is it Bush is supposed to have done wrong? We can't quite tell. If this were the 1950s, and the targets were communists instead of capitalist politicians, the media would resound with talk of "guilt by association." We clearly aren't supposed to care whether the Bushies did anything to help political contributors out of a jam (as indeed they didn't); we're supposed to infer that they wanted to. Save for its coming during a lull in the terrorism war, this story of business and human disaster would have stayed in the business section. In the way the Democrats and their media camp followers are playing the Enron "scandal," it is possible to sense terrible miscalculation. The plain political intent is to slather some tar and feathers on handy targets, guilt by association being better than no guilt at all. Ordinary voters will be hard-put not to notice what goes on and even harder-put not to become angry. The prisoner story will pass quickly enough; the Enron story will pass more slowly and gratingly. The president, we may hope, tuning out the ever-present political static, will keep on getting the people's work done.