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Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2001 / 28 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Bill Schneider

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The other war --- the one for public opinion -- THE Bush Administration is concerned that public support may be wavering, especially overseas, after more than a month of fighting without the kind of dramatic results that were initially predicted. So last week, the Administration opened a new front in the campaign -- the war for public opinion.

One tactic in that war: remind the world of the nature of the enemy. When he addressed Eastern European leaders via satellite in Warsaw on Nov. 6, President Bush drew parallels between the terrorists and the "repressive ideologies that tried to trample human dignity'' in Europe. "Like the fascists and the totalitarians before them,'' the President said, "these terrorists . . . try to impose their radical views through threat and violence.''

President Bush dramatized the threat by warning that the terrorists are "seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.'' His point was re-enforced by Osama bin Laden himself, who told a Pakistani newspaper, "We have chemical and nuclear weapons as a deterrent.'' Western experts believe it is extremely unlikely that Al Qaeda possesses a nuclear capability, but President Bush cautioned the United Nations on Saturday that they can be expected to use such weapons "the moment they are capable of doing so.''

Another tactic: make it clear that the U.S. is winning, even if the results are not always visible. "We are destroying training camps, disrupting communications and dismantling air defenses,'' the President told the nation last week. The capture of a key northern city last weekend gave the Administration's campaign a much-needed boost. Something was accomplished at last, even though it's not clear whether that battle is over or just beginning.

American public support for the war is actually holding strong. But there are some danger signs. In a mid-September, Gallup poll, 41 percent of Americans expressed a great deal of confidence in the government's ability to protect them from future terrorist attacks. After a month of anthrax attacks and no perpetrators arrested, that figure slipped to 25 percent in an early November "Time" Magazine poll.

It was left for Attorney General John Ashcroft to make the claim that the U.S. is winning. "We have not suffered another major terrorist attack,'' Ashcroft said. "The homefront has witnessed the opening battle in the war against terrorism, and America has emerged victorious.'' One can only hope the attorney general never has to regret saying those words.

Still another tactic: give more people a stake in the campaign. Psychologists know that if people become involved in an effort, they become committed to it. That's the theory behind the President's remarks in Atlanta last week, when he called for a new wave of volunteerism in America. "All of us can become a September the 11th volunteer by making a commitment to service,'' the President said.

Volunteerism is not quite the same thing as sacrifice. Aren't citizens supposed to be called on to sacrifice in a time of war? Yes, but "this war is different from any our nation has ever faced,'' the President said. For one thing, it is the only war the U.S. has ever fought without a military draft. The argument is that refusing to change our way of life is a statement against terrorism. "Life in America is going forward,'' President Bush said in Atlanta, "and . . . that is the ultimate repudiation of terrorism.''

The only problem is that the government has not yet determined what it needs volunteers to do. Patrol borders? Guard nuclear power plants? Those are crucial security tasks that are best handled by professionals. "I've created a task force to develop additional ways people can get directly involved in this war effort,'' the President said in Atlanta. It is supposed to come up with recommendations in 40 days.

The same theory of involvement lies behind the parade of world leaders visiting Washington: give them a stake in this, too. France has committed 2,000 troops for sea patrols and air reconnaissance missions. Italy has pledge 1,000 troops, plus planes and warships. Germany, 3,900 -- the first German troops outside Europe since World War II. Japan has sent two destroyers and a supply ship.

Before September 11, the Bush Administration was defiantly unilateralist. The U.S. would go it alone on global warming and missile defense. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate hearing that the unilateralists are still around. They're uneasy with all this coalition-building, warning that "when you bring all these people together, don't you have to take into account all of their interests, and don't these coalitions sometimes hamstring the President?''

The American public isn't worried. That's according to a poll taken this month for the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. By nearly three to one, Americans say it's better for more countries to join with us in this effort, even if it means the U.S. can't make decisions on its own.

President Bush doesn't mind either. He said so on Saturday in his maiden address to the United Nations. "Every nation in our coalition has duties,'' President Bush said. "The time for sympathy has passed. The time for action has now arrived.''

Bush the unilateralist is no more. Now it's Bush the coalition-builder. It's not clear the U.S. really needs those German troops or Italian warships. But the U.S. does need other countries' political support. And the way to get it is to make it their war, too.

To comment on JWR contributor William Schneider's column, please click here.

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09/14/01: The American spirit will not wane
09/10/01: What Dubya knows about the budget
08/13/01: Japan becomes the latest country to see its politics become personalized
08/09/01: Bush backers out to remake prez yet again
07/30/01: Will the GOP's mandate of 1994 finally runs out?
07/23/01: Both political parties are full of ....
07/16/01: Empowered moderate Republicans
07/09/01: As goes New Jersey, so goes the nation?
07/02/01: Dubya: Like father, like son?
06/15/01: The new soccer moms
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05/29/01: The War Between the States is heating up again
05/21/01: The answer is men
05/10/01: Bush v. Carter?


© 2001, William Schneider