The endless delays erode fighting readiness and push the war back into the summer. More American soldiers may die because of France's dubious diplomacy. That diplomacy is geared to appeasement at home as well as abroad -- 5 million Muslim immigrants live in often crime-ridden neighborhoods that ring France's major cities. With few jobs and no national policy of assimilation, these neighborhoods are a growing threat, so appeasement seems logical.
The Bush administration has made mistakes, but it's an illusion to think that a different style, or a different president, would have averted the current U.N. disaster. Bush conducted no "rush to war." He was asked to go to Congress and to the United Nations, and he did. Getting the U.N. Security Council to pass Resolution 1441 last November was considered a political triumph. It called for Iraq to disarm immediately and completely.
But who knew that the word of France was good for less than four months? As Andrew Sullivan writes, "If the French refuse to enforce a resolution they signed, why is that a sign of incompetence on the part of the Bush administration?" When the Security Council reneges on a last-chance, disarm-or-else resolution shortly after the ink dries, it is staking a heavy claim to irrelevance.
It's striking that the fecklessness of the United Nations and the treachery of the French draw so many yawns from establishment commentators and politicians. They much prefer to complain about Bush. These voices are far more sophisticated than the crude Bush-equals-Hitler level of commentary established at anti-war rallies and marches. Lately they just insist that Bush talks too much about God, has a Manichaean sense of good vs. evil, and lacks a proper sense of ambivalence and complexity.The Manichaean charge comes partly from Bush's use of religious language but mostly from a line in his speech to the American people 10 days after 9/11: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." But Bush wasn't announcing a ban on dissent. In context, he was warning nations that harbor terrorists that we would hold them responsible, as we soon did in Afghanistan. At any rate, the warning to other nations that "you're either with us or you're not" originated with Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sept. 12, 2001. So far, though, she has not been accused of having a Manichaean philosophy.
Complaints about religious references are predictable. Naturally enough, they make some secular folks uncomfortable. (What they would have made of Lincoln, God knows.) Complaints about Bush's lack of ambivalence are far more curious. He is accused in various journals of "a questionable certainty" and of failing to realize that "moral certainty, for the most part, is a luxury of a closed mind." David Brooks of The Weekly Standard sardonically calls this America's "certainty crisis."
Presumably, Bush could end this dread crisis by leaning in several directions at once and changing his mind and his principles often. Perhaps the French could help him here. But ambivalence isn't a virtue, and resolve isn't a character flaw. Bush has an admirable grasp of what is at stake when terrorists organize and rogue states reach for nuclear weapons. He means to meet these threats, and that's why many find his certainty annoying.
Instead of concentrating on the reality of Iraq and its threat, the anti-war movement offers a content-free politics of gesture and good intentions: "Peace" is good and "war" is bad. "Books, Not Bombs," "Give Peace a Chance" and "Bush Is a Terrorist" signs abound, but there's not much in the way of argument.
It's dangerous to invade but more dangerous not to. Be glad Bush isn't out there wavering with all the ambivalent folks.