Of might and 'smart' men

Posted: Mar 24, 2003 12:00 AM

It's a popular conceit among the antiwar crowd that diplomacy is the realm of the intelligent, while war is for dummies who can't talk their way out of a crisis.

Thus, the antiwar group Not in Our Name dismissed the war on terrorism as "simplistic" and boasted that its membership included "intellectuals."

Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's lamented that President Bush "failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war." In this fantasy world, Bush is waging war because it's the easy way to go. Nonsense.

Bush has taken the hardest, the riskiest, path. People will die; the only question is how many. Saddam Hussein may unleash foul weapons that rain painful death upon civilians and American troops. Al Qaeda may use the moment to attack U.S. civilians. The rebuilding of Iraq presents a long set of thankless challenges.

Bush knows how daunting the challenges are, even if his critics contend that he doesn't.

Bush also understands that diplomacy helped arm the Iraqi regime that the peace crowd says it wants to disarm. (How? Why, peacefully.)

Bush Pere was a skilled diplomat, who was masterful in rallying a strong U.N. coalition. The downside, now too evident, is that War by Committee made Bush a half-baked warrior, a victor who didn't know what to do with a win. Because the goal was to liberate Kuwait -- and explicitly not to oust Hussein -- American troops and technology vaporized the poorly armed "cannon fodder" sent to die at the border, but largely spared Hussein's well armed and highly trained Republican Guard. Diplomacy whispered that America should betray the Kurds, after urging them to revolt.

The worst of it is that sparing Hussein was the brainchild of clever men who thought they knew best. In the world of diplomats, a vanquished Hussein was preferable to regional destabilization that was expected to follow if he were deposed.

Thanks to bad diplomacy, Hussein was able to harass U.N. weapons inspectors without consequence. In 1998, Hussein barred U.N. inspectors from entering his Ba'ath Party headquarters. Further, there was U.S. pressure on U.N. inspectors to cancel visits to sites suspected of storing weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, France and friends wanted not to get tougher on Hussein, but to end the U.N.-imposed economic sanctions.

Thus, Hussein chased the weapons inspectors out of Iraq. There were no consequences, other than Hussein finding himself happily free to crank up a deadly arsenal that he threatens to use against the very people who showed him clemency.

The super-smart President Clinton dealt with the threat by bombing Baghdad -- more for show than effect -- and then moving on. Thus, the last 12 years of feckless diplomacy served only to instill in America's enemies the lethal conviction that America lacks resolve, staying power and a will to win.

All that intellectual firepower -- and it only served to make a brutal regime stronger.

Today, Hussein appears fearless. Or maybe, finally, he is afraid. Hussein should be frightened of an American president who is such a simpleton that he believes a call for immediate disarmament should mean immediate disarmament. Or else.