President Bush I held American forces back from Baghdad a decade ago because of what the Russians, the Saudis and the French might think. President Bush II faces cleaning up an Augean mess largely of his father's making - and abetted by his own immediate presidential predecessor.
In the current run-up to war, Bush II is moving in some of the same ways his father did - and encountering the same obstacles, but more.
They said - remember? - Bush II, the graduate of both Yale and Harvard, is stupid. They said he wasn't really president and couldn't lead. They said he could not get an enabling resolution for Iraq through Congress, but he did - with a majority of congressional Democrats voting against him. They said he could not prevail in the UN Security Council, but he did - unanimously. They said he could not enlist the NATO allies, but next week he likely will - just watch. One day soon he may even win over a majority of the Arab regimes as well.
They say, those naifs and fatuous smug self-appointed moralists who oppose him, that America shouldn't be pre-emptive, shouldn't seek regime change, shouldn't attack a country that doesn't threaten us, shouldn't war once more over oil.
War, now, would not be about oil. It would not be between Christianity and Islam. It would not pit Arabs against the West.
It would be about terror, liberation, the future of mankind and the freedom that is the ultimate cause.
One of these days, one of these years, one of these generations the perennial resisters and objectors, the adamant legalists, humanists and ethicists, will relent at last, will understand, will finally see what is at stake and get out of the way - will cease opposing, opposing, always opposing, and will join the cause of liberty and the good guys in the white hats.
Even now, the UN's Kofi Annan lectures President Bush about the importance of being patient with Saddam, and this in the face of the UN's 17th resolution demanding he open his arsenals and disarm. Even the (Democratic) Senate stalled creation of a department of homeland security. Even now, Bush's own State Department - in consort with his own CIA - fails to fund, with $100 million already congressionally authorized, the only Iraqi opposition both conceivably viable and democratically inclined.
Dennis Ross, a coordinator of Middle Eastern policy under Bush I and President Clinton, says the fish-or-cut-bait date for Bush II will be Dec. 8, when Iraq "must provide a full accounting of all its weapons of mass destruction sites, programs, capabilities, developments and personnel." If Bush II means business, means not to be snookered, there can be no toleration of Iraqi partial disclosure. In Prague last week, he bluntly confirmed Ross' observation.
Ross writes, "There should be no mistake about the consequences of letting (Saddam) get away with a partial disclosure of his WMD programs and efforts. ... (He will believe) that the game remains, and that he need not stop pursuing nuclear weapons and more destructive means of delivering biological and chemical agents."
And we have it on the very best authority that Saddam has such weapons - that, in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Iraqis "do have weapons of mass destruction."
In 1998, driven by a thoroughgoing anti-Americanism, Osama bin Laden crossed the secular (Arab)/religious (Muslim) divide and - with his Egyptian comrade Ayman al Zawahiri - declared the creation of a World Islamic Front. In a fatwa, or decree, they called on Islamist extremists to kill "Americans and their allies, civilian and military alike." In the fatwa they cited as a principal reason "the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the Crusader-Zionist alliance."
Incidents of terror mount. Osama speaks - and threatens more. Saddam helps make Osama and al-Qaida possible, butchers and gasses his own people and develops his nuclear and biochemical weapons to intimidate the world - with the potential to end the human race.
Writes Johns Hopkins' Fouad Ajami:
"If and when America ventures into Iraq, it should cast aside the distinction between secular and Islamist enemies. The rule of reason and practicality, the delivery of the Arabs from a culture of victimology and abdication, the need to take on the sources of the anti-Americanism that brought terror to America's shores, all entail a reckoning with the same malignancies.
It was the sparing of Saddam in 1991 that nourished al-Qaida, and gave its masterminds and foot-soldiers ammunition, and an ideological pretext for targeting America....
America's enemies in that region are full of cunning. They should be read right; the banners they unfurl - secular or religious - are of no great significance. It is the drive that animates them that matters. What they bring forth, be they dictators in bunkers or jihadists on the run, is a determination to extirpate American influence from their world, and a view of history that the deep sorrows and failings of the Arab world can be laid at the doorsteps of the distant American power."
So, is it to be war? We may know around Dec. 9. If necessary then, on to Baghdad - and thereafter, again if necessary, there may have to be a demonstration-drop (or two) on Pyongyang.