Enough doomsaying already!

Posted: Sep 09, 2003 12:00 AM

Has anybody noticed? We won the war.

Likewise, we're winning the war's aftermath -- only more gradually and frustratingly and expensively than anyone in his right mind would prefer.

This scarcely obviates the reality that in the conflict over Iraqi democracy, Bush, Bremer & Co. are to the Saddamists as Andy Roddick is to a junior high tennis squad. With this exception only: that no one in tennis gets murdered by gangs of die-hard extremist losers.

The persistence of the murder squads in Iraq brought President Bush before the television cameras Sunday night to set recent Iraqi events in some kind of perspective. The murder squads, especially those who blew up the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, were doubtless delighted. Their strategy all along has been to render postwar Iraq as dangerous and uncertain a place as they can make it, in the hope that, as the president put it, we will "leave Iraq before our work is done." The terrorists, he continued, "want to shake the will of the civilized world."

Of course they do. As Bush said, citing the examples of Beirut and Somalia, they claim that "if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge."

We could still run fast and hard from this one, our military successes notwithstanding. Last week, in Albuquerque, the Democratic presidential candidates smote the president hip and thigh for getting us into a Middle Eastern muddle, virtually friendless and -- you might suppose from the rhetoric -- overmatched by the murder squads. Of the commander in chief whose forces swept the Saddamists from the field, Richard Gephardt said sourly: "This president is a miserable failure."

Well, that's democracy, one supposes: the same commodity with which we are presently seeking to bless the Iraqis. These squabbles probably do us some good, by opening up issues that might otherwise stay closed.

Yet on the other hand (there is always another hand in democracy), what's needed is some serious and intelligent discussion instead of the ranting to which so many critics of the Bush strategy seem given. The point of these particular critics is to blow off strategic considerations and make Bush look as squalid and stupid as possible.

So what do the gentlemen propose specifically that we do differently? That's the thing we never hear. Turn it over to the United Nations, and get out, say some, including Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. More suggestions: Speed up the elections; create an Iraqi government; write a constitution.

Truly brilliant notions! We hand off to the Germans and the French, and to Kofi Annan, who will proceed to do what? And will subdue the murder squads how?

The expedited elections will feature what candidates? Ex-Baathists or not? What will the constitution look like? How will power be distributed among major religious and ethnic groups?

Lay a finger ever so lightly on a single one of these facile "strategies" for one-upping the Bush-Bremer strategy, and the pseudo-strategy crumbles. Nobody, it seems, has an answer notably better than Bush-Bremer. Nobody, indeed, has thought past the exclamation point at the end of the first sentence in a particular "answer."

Four months into this thing, and the terror gangs have us on the run? What a load of that odoriferous substance used for fertilizer! The intelligent thing, surely, is to continue taking stock; even to find for the United Nations in semi-peacetime the role it pettishly refused to accept during wartime. The United Nations, like any large collection of franchise holders, has its scoundrels, crackpots and yahoos; U.N. cooperation can nevertheless be useful. Likewise, elections can and probably should -- though I'm not Paul Bremer, so how can I really know? -- be held as soon as conditions in the country warrant.

President Bush hasn't done everything right, heaven knows. Back, nevertheless, to where we came in: We're winning. Petty, spiteful doomsaying and hand-wringing will bring victory no closer. But they can shove it beyond anyone's grasp.