Good news/bad news

Posted: Dec 04, 2003 12:00 AM
For Dick Gephardt and the other Democratic presidential candidates, the good news is the bad news: "When you measure progress on the threats that could inflict the greatest number of casualties, it's clear this president is gambling with our safety," Gephardt charged in Iowa this week.

Eighty-one U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq last month, the bloodiest month of the war. According to Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, this is because of a new, more aggressive effort to root out Fedayeen still loyal to Saddam Hussein. When you go after the enemy, he said, "you will lose American soldiers, you will lose coalition soldiers."

To someone less determined to snatch defeat out of victory, the bad news is the good news: Just 73 Americans died in the April invasion. Not a single American, meanwhile, has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since 9/11. Do you remember how we told each other things would never go back to normal here?

But they have, even here in New York. The threat of terrorism remains but it is a background buzz, no longer a daily reality, a paralyzing fear.

For John F. Kerry, the good news is bad news. President Bush's success in protecting Americans here at home must be recast as a threat. He promises he will appoint a new attorney general who can "fight the war on terrorism without attacking America's freedoms ... an attorney general whose name is not John Ashcroft."

The success of the American military is prompting a new strategy among the Saddam diehards in Iraq. This week there is bad news from Iraq: Gunmen killed two South Koreans, hired by Americans to help restore and maintain the Iraqi electricity supply.

Two Japanese diplomats who stopped to buy food and drink were ambushed. They were traveling in a Toyota Land Cruiser unaccompanied by guards, on their way to a conference on how to reconstruct Iraq. Seven Spanish intelligence officers traveling in a civilian car were similarly killed. En route between Baghdad and Tikrit (birthplace of Saddam), a Turkish diesel fuel tanker came under fire.

Clearly, as Gen. Kimmitt put it, "The enemy realizes that attacking a military target will probably lead to his death or capture."

The bad news is the good news: Governments of Spain and South Korea denounced the terrorism and promised to stay the course in Iraq. Both governments have sent noncombat troops to aid in Iraqi reconstruction. "There are no frontiers in the battle against terrorism," Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar Lopez said. In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promised that neither the deaths nor al-Qaida threats would alter its commitment: "There will be no change in Japan's policy of providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Iraq."

But for people like Gephardt, there is never any good news, no silver linings: "A foreign policy that drives away natural allies in the war against terrorism does our country no good, and shortchanging domestic security puts our citizens here at home at undue risk," he said, calling for a $100 billion spending spree on "homeland security."

There is no way to build a wall around America, no way to guarantee that no terrorist attack will ever again take place on American soil. But the Bush strategy combines an international attack on al-Qaida that has clearly disrupted its ability to attack America, a strong warning to sympathetic governments that give even passive aid and comfort to terrorists, and an aggressive attorney general named Ashcroft here at home, with the first hope (glimmering but not yet realized) of a decent, Islamic, democratic government in the Middle East.

Nothing is perfect. From where I sit, the news looks pretty good.