Bush puts all his chips on table

Posted: Sep 10, 2003 12:00 AM

President Bush should have closed his speech Sunday night by declaring "tapis!"

If you ever watch the world series of poker, you'll occasionally see a Frenchman declare "tapis!" Surprisingly enough, tapis doesn't mean "I give up." In fact, it is a somewhat un-French word because it means pretty much the opposite. It means "all in," which in poker means you're putting all of your chips in the pot.

I don't know if President Bush is bluffing or if he thinks he's got the winning hand. But his speech amounted to a declaration that we are "all in" in Iraq. He put more than $87 billion on the line. He even put more than his presidency in the pot. He bet America's place at the table.

Until now the "international community" - the French, the United Nations, etc. - has been saying that nothing the United States does in Iraq can be "legitimate" without its approval. This has next to nothing to do with high-minded principle and almost everything to do with a desire to restrain the United States.

Some countries, such as France, Germany and to a lesser extent China, use the United Nations the way the Great Powers of old Europe used ententes, alliances and the like - to check what they see as a rival power.

It's not like France asked the United Nations for permission to invade the Ivory Coast earlier this year (they did finally ask, but not until after the fact). It's not as if China believes it can't oppress Tibet or reclaim Taiwan without the international community's say-so.

If the United States hands Iraq over to the United Nations, it will be saying, in effect, that the U.N. was right all along, that it should have veto power over American foreign policy. Even if you were against the war, that is a terrible signal and precedent for the United States to send.

On the other hand, if the United Nations agrees to work with and for the United States - as well it should - then the United States will have confirmed its authority to conduct its foreign policy, right or wrong, without having to ask permission first.

It should also be pointed out that the United States has a better record of "nation building" than the United Nations or France. The U.N., for example, runs many of the Palestinian refugee camps, which churn out generation after generation of terrorists. France's former colonies are run by a rogue's gallery of tyrants and thugs.

Meanwhile, we practiced nation-building in Germany and Japan and did quite well at it. President Bush's request for $87 billion and his promise to stick with Iraq for the long term was a clear signal that we will not cut and run from our responsibilities to do the same for Iraq. If he'd signaled otherwise, Iraq would deteriorate to a level of chaos that would make today's mess look like a tea party. Seen from this light, the future of Iraq is in the pot, too.

And so is the war on terrorism. President Bush boldly and rightly called Iraq the "frontline of freedom" in his address to the nation. Every lunatic jihadist in the world is answering the call to fight the infidels - i.e. us - in Iraq. This was almost surely not the White House's original plan - "Hey! Let's taunt the scum of the earth into attacking our troops!" Nevertheless, there's an upside to our predicament.

"The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans," Bush said. "We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities."

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the head of military forces in Iraq, said something similar on CNN. Iraq "is what I would call a terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity," he said. "But this is exactly where we want to fight them. ...This will prevent the American people from having to go through their attacks back in the United States."

If Bush and Sanchez are right, and I think they are, then the security and prosperity of America and the world is on the line. If America succeeds, Iraq becomes peaceful and prosperous, which would hopefully have a domino effect in the region.

If America fails, we would have another September 11th, perhaps this time punctuated by a mushroom cloud. The American economy would crash, and so probably would the world's. And, of course, if we lost at the front lines of freedom, George Bush's name would be mud for generations.

In other words: Tapis.