What's ahead? Ask Bush

Posted: Mar 07, 2003 12:00 AM
Two reactions flashed out at us from two men of extraordinary experience, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Kissinger surveys the scene in the United Nations and pronounces what is being done as "shocking." We see putative allies in the U.N. lobbying African and other nations to vote against the United States: "This has never happened in 50 years of previous controversies, which have been conducted as family controversies," said the most famous and experienced diplomat in U.S. history.

The other guest on Wolf Blitzer's program, Mr. Brzezinski, has also served in the highest national security office, in behalf of President Carter. Zbig is a tough, brilliant analyst, and while not exactly disagreeing with Kissinger, assigns the blame not to defective allies, but to defective U.S. diplomacy. He thinks the U.S. bid for support has been at best clumsy, at worst, blockheaded. We have treated other nations as though they had the duty to "line up." We have dealt with them as if they were part of some "Warsaw Pact."

Maybe President Bush and Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld should have used more dulcet language in rallying such as Germany and France. But it is strange to level such a charge against Colin Powell, who is the perfect diplomatic gentleman, though he does have a tough, sharp edge. Beleaguered at the Davos Conference last month, he faced down one critic who was arguing that America should cultivate its "soft," as distinguished from its "hard" qualities, charging that imperialism had got hold of U.S. policy. Losing his cool -- or perhaps cultivating its use -- General Powell answered that the United States would continue its loyalty to Europe asking, in return, only for room in the ground in which to bury our dead.

The question everywhere arises: Is it too late to stop the war?

It is quite generally accepted that mere wide-screen, missile-by-missile disarmament will not halt the mastodonic gathering of U.S. forces. Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, has said almost as much: "Disarmament" would not do it -- there would have to be a regime change. The implicit position of the White House is that the ecdysiast performance of Saddam Hussein's disarmament exhibit can't be trusted because he can't be trusted, and there is no better substitute for getting rid of Saddam than getting rid of Saddam.

There is a creeping resignation on this point even as more and more stratagems are tried out. The Pakistanis promise a demonstration of more than 1 million people later this month. The pope has sent a special envoy to talk with President Bush, a cardinal who is also an old family friend. And the Brooklyn Academy of Music is part of a worldwide movement to read -- and, presumably, to enact -- the Aristophanes play "Lysistrata," in which the Greek women prevailed finally on their belligerent husbands to stop making war in Peloponnesia by withholding sex, the ultimate ultimatum, from their husbands.

Toss everything into the pot -- U.N. diplomacy, disarmament spectacles, great rallies and peace marches, Vatican envoys and hard doses of "Lysistrata" -- and you have got nothing much more than an inquiry into the mind-set of George W. Bush.

David Frum, sometime speechwriter for the president, has a book, "The Right Man," about Bush, whose principal disclosure is that Mr. Bush makes his own decisions. Coming up in The Atlantic Monthly is a cover portrait on Bush by Richard Brookhiser, the historian and journalist. It is called "The Mind of George W. Bush," and once again, the author's finding is that Bush makes his own decisions and that everyone who observes the Bush White House comes to the same conclusion.

Brookhiser does not suggest that Bush fails to heed advice. But it is advice taken from men and women whose working minds and planted axioms he knows and trusts. This is not to be taken as saying that Bush plus his advisers are never ignorant or uncomprehending. "The government and the world are so protean that no polymaths or even whole administrations are capable of entirely filtering the torrent of information and events washing over them. The best a president can hope to do is identify a handful of problems and, by bearing down on them, accomplish a handful of things."

In that handful, the essay suggests, is the dislocation of Saddam Hussein as overlord of Iraq. Myriad purposes are served here and among them, granted, is the satisfaction taken by President Bush. This is not to be mistaken as merely the gratified use of power and purpose, but the validation of the political and strategic analysis on which he has set his course. And when Bush does this, he moves resolutely, as -- everyone is now predicting -- Saddam Hussein will soon learn for himself.