Politics are out of place in time of war

Posted: Nov 01, 2003 12:00 AM

Georgia Democrat Sen. Zell Miller explained his surprising early endorsement of George Bush for 2004 in terms of trust and the future.

The next five years will determine what kind of world his children and grandchildren inherit, he said. And he doesn't "trust" any of the nine Democratic presidential candidates to secure that future.

Miller is not alone, though some are more sanguine when it comes to evaluating the roster of contenders. Here's a note I got recently from a friend and former Delta Force member, who has been observing American politics from the trenches: "These bastards like Clark and Kerry and that incipient ass, Dean, and Gephardt and Kucinich and that absolute mental midget Sharpton, race baiter, should all be lined up and slapped."

"All this carping and undercutting of our foreign policy - whatever happened to politics stops at the water's edge? - is giving strength and hope to our enemies. That makes them fight harder and longer and in the end costs the very lives they claim to care so much about."

OK, so he's a little emotional. We'll pardon him, given that earlier in the day he had learned of a pal's death in Afghanistan with whom he served several years. His friend was no kid, but a veteran of many wars. A Native American Indian, they called him "Chief," which he liked just fine so everybody in the ethnic sensitivity guard can relax.

My friend's disgust with the current climate of debate may be extreme but not uncommon, especially among military folks. His remarks also speak to a spirit and a reality that the Democratic candidates might do well to consider before they shoot themselves in whatever extremities remain free of self-inflicted wounds.

That spirit is this: Americans are willing to entertain legitimate criticism and discussion, but not bile and invective driven by the politics of self-promotion. When people are dying, it ain't kosher. It's also dishonest.

It is disingenuous to vote in favor of war, as some of the candidates did, and then to declare when the going gets tough that you favored war only if everything went according to plan - a plan, incidentally, that was visible only in a rearview mirror.

Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry, for instance, say they supported getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but disapprove of the way Bush has executed the war. Shoulda, Coulda and Woulda are brilliant on Monday mornings, but no war goes according to anyone's plan.

Then retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who's still attached to the fraudulent "imminent threat" meme, says he was always against the war, even though he's on record contradicting himself. Clark is like the news on eggs. One day eggs are good, next day they're bad. Whatever they are, he always knew it.

The reality portion of this picture, as Bush continues to reiterate, is that we should not, cannot and will not abandon the Iraqi people to be subsumed by terrorists now infiltrating the country or devoured by the subterranean Saddam and his Baathist ghouls.

Miller's trust in Bush, meanwhile, mirrors that of 56 percent of Americans who are sticking with him despite imperfections, such as that pre-war intelligence was weak to wrong, depending on the item; post-war planning was inadequate; American soldiers' falling to snipers and suicide bombers is distressing and apparently unexpected.

Personally, I find reprehensible the administration's policy of concealing our military dead. On the eve of the Iraq war, the Pentagon issued a directive forbidding "arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel."

Bush as nanny doesn't fit Bush as commander-in-chief. We're grown-ups out here.

As grown-ups, Americans can absorb the reality that the war against Iraq was both legitimate given Saddam's refusal to abide by U.N. resolutions and necessary as a response to Sept. 11, even absent a group hug between al-Qaida and the Saddamites.

We hit Saddam because we could, as Thomas Friedman of The New York Times wrote, "and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that (Arab-Muslim terrorist) world. . Every neighboring government - and 98 percent of terrorism is about what governments let happen - got the message."

At this point, our future depends on staying on message, as politicians like to say. The next president will be the man or woman Americans trust most to understand that.