Before getting totally consumed with the often vacuous rhetoric of Election 2004, it is important to take stock of the one truly consuming issue before the American people—the global war on terrorism. Where are we and what’s next? Those who were anticipating some guidance from the recently released report of the 9/11 Commission should have been disappointed—no “smoking gun”, no “red meat” for partisan consumption and assignment of blame—just an invitation to several months of bureaucratic and Congressional turf wars over the substantive equivalent of how to rearrange the furniture. So while we deal with the almost totally politically driven response to the report, we had better be totally committed to this war for, be assured, our enemies most certainly are. I was struck by a comment in Charles Hill’s recent Wall Street Journal essay on the Commission report: “……a platform must be found from which to explain the dimensions of the challenge. In terms of the Second World War, we are in the late 1930’s. Churchill described the danger then. Today the Bush administration is understandably reluctant to talk frankly about a threat so fraught with religious, cultural, and civilizational implications.” How true, but Bush and his surrogates don’t have the luxury of avoiding such talk, election year or not. For the fact is that, though war talk was barely mentioned in the 2000 election campaign, we were then arguably in the seventh year of this war, and are now in the eleventh! So, what’s next? Here are some suggestions:· It’s time to launch the next offensive—Iran. Clearly, diplomatic efforts have about run their course here, the mullahs have no intention but to buy time while they pursue their nuclear weapons objectives, and the UN is, as usual, irrelevant. So far, we have been all talk, no action. We should be pursuing regime change on all fronts—political, massive radio intervention a la Radio Free Europe, and aggressive support for the internal dissidents and revolutionaries. What if these don’t work? A new test for pre-emptive military intervention and the Bush Doctrine.
· We should get serious about directly confronting Syria’s support for the insurgents and terrorists who are killing Americans and Iraqis in Iraq. The message should be “cease and desist or else!” and should be backed by a real threat of military intervention, with which the Kurdish militia would be happy to assist!
· In Iraq, it’s pretty simple: all out support for the new government’s promise to “annihilate” the insurgents (i.e., no more “Fallujahs”), hold firm to the date for January elections, and begin to structure new alliances that will be more suitable for the new global realities than the tepid response we have received from our erstwhile NATO “allies” in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Bush’s primary responsibility in all of this, for he owns the platform, is to “explain the dimensions of the challenge”, as Hill says. There will be a tendency by the “nervous Nellies” to defer any new initiatives in an election year and in the wake of the strong anti-incumbent message in the recent European Union and local European elections, particularly the big losses by Blair in the UK. The President’s problems are further compounded by John Kerry’s “nuanced” message on the war effort in Iraq, the anti-American sentiments of the European and American left, and their presumption of bad intent on his part. But, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher in another crisis, “this is no time to go wobbly”, and he must be even bolder on these points than he has recently shown. It is the right thing to do strategically for America and the world, as well as politically for him.