Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2004 / 12 Tishrei, 5765
GOPers whispering about president
Out of earshot of Democrats and liberals who froth with hatred for George W. Bush, many Republicans and conservatives express concern and confusion about U.S. intervention in Iraq.
And rarely do President Bush's speeches on the subject before the Republican National Convention last month, or at the United Nations General Assembly last week relieve that private concern.
"If only Bush could explain the war like Rudy Giuliani did at the convention," whispered one worried Republican to me, "I'd feel so much better about Iraq now."
Frustration with Bush's unfocused presentation is a common theme in conservative circles, as are murmured questions such as:
"Why aren't we in North Korea or Iran as well, if they're such threats?"
"Are we concentrating enough on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, or did we dilute our efforts in Afghanistan to go to Iraq?"
"When will we be able to withdraw from Iraq?"
"Won't these people just elect another dictator as soon as we're gone?"
"Are we fueling Islamic militancy by being over there?"
We conservatives often wonder about these questions in closed quarters, while defending Bush's war-time Presidency in public.
That defense is in no way disingenuous. We do, actually, believe Bush acted in Iraq on principle, driven with the best information he had at the time even if we now worry that he miscalculated the extent of Iraq's weapons program or the pockets of Iraqi resistance to U.S. intervention.
We understand Bush is fallible, but unlike what liberals say, we believe his mind and heart were in the right place. We believe Saddam was working on weapons of mass destruction and naturally given the long lead time he enjoyed after the United States announced its intention to invade and moved his laboratories and weapons.
And of course, we believe the Iraqi people are better off because of our military action, though most of us would agree that even a single American soldier or hostage's life is not an acceptable price to pay for running water and electricity in Baghdad.
It's hard for us to fathom why Bush's opponents feverishly cling to their theory that he deceived Americans and the rest of the world that he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction. They say he led us into Iraq for reasons ranging from the misguided (to appease the neoconservatives in his administration, who want to transform pits of backwardness in the Middle East into functional democracies) to the nefarious (to steal Iraq's oil and make Dick Cheney's friends at Halliburton wealthy) to the political (to keep the focus of his administration on war rather than domestic policy even though his own father was ousted from the White House for doing the same).
Bush's opponents think he lied; Bush's defenders (however concerned about Iraq we may be privately) think that charge borders on the delusional.
Bush is ahead in polls right now because John Kerry stands for nothing in Iraq. But what we're still waiting for and what we desperately need before the election is an impassioned, incisive explanation from Bush that the price we are paying in American bloodshed is worth it, because even if Saddam Hussein didn't have a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, he was helping al-Qaida.
Or that he was helping to plan an attack on Americans or U.S. soil.
Or, very simply, that he repeatedly violated the terms of the 1991 ceasefire and ignored the United Nations that liberals revere so much, and in a post-9/11 world, these things must be treated as hanging offenses.
Much as Rudy Giuliani sent a warning to big league criminals and kept New Yorkers safer by arresting less important criminals, Bush would be justified in making an example to al-Qaida out of the murderous Saddam regime.
Thursday night Bush will debate the amorphous John Kerry for the first time, and the President has an excellent opportunity to set forth the best reasons for America to be in Iraq. As long as his case refers back to weapons of mass destruction, the Left will call him a liar, and as long as his case hinges on freeing Third World people from their own dictators and building school houses, the Right will wonder if Americans are being killed for another hapless humanitarian mission.
Come Thursday night, Bush must get it just right.
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© 2004, Bernadette Malone