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Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2002 / 29 Elul, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Give Them What They Want

Congress thinks it wants to vote on Iraq. It really doesn't. | So members of Congress are whining -- not asking, whiiiining -- that they ought to be consulted on the matter of going to war against Iraq. As the November elections approach, what fun it must be for a member of Congress to wag a finger at a popular President of the United States -- American love a contrarian, you know. Members are racking up political points among self-styled deep thinkers faster than the odometer spins on a 16-year-old boy's first car.

Truth to tell, those complaining the loudest about having no say in the war don't really want to vote on the war in the first place. They want what they have right now: the opportunity to worry in public and pull their chins for Chris Matthews, Ted Koppel, and the editorial page editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post. They want to deliver august answers and earnest looks into the camera as they consider Grave Danger -- not from Saddam Hussein, but from violating suddenly holy conventions in international affairs. It's an ideal position for a politician: Look pensive and serious while endlessly skewering and second-guessing (and undercutting) the decisions of those in charge, and doing so without a whiff of responsibility.

President Bush can clean up this gabby and divisive mess in a hurry by demanding that Congress vote on Iraq right now.

Debate over war is absolutely necessary, but the current debate is defined by a lack of direction and, even more often, a lack of knowledge of the facts and threats. The anti-war Democrats embrace more diplomacy, and inspections of the type that have been flouted for ten years by Iraq; the anti-war Republicans embrace an out-of-date rulebook of world dynamics that makes no allowance for the new calculus of terrorism on our own soil.

The President doesn't have to be ready to go to war tomorrow or even before the end of the year. But demanding that Congress get on record as either for or against the administration's efforts will put an end to the otherwise endless manufacture of doubt in the mind of the public, a doubt created in no small measure by the lack of a coordinated public relations effort by the White House to get their war message out over the summer.

Congress ought to be consulted, anyway. Why not now? Whether the coming war in Iraq will be classified as a technically-defined "war" with attendant ramifications in international law; a police action; a global coalition of one; or a trip to Uncle Saddam's Retreat, the fact is that young men are going to die on their side and ours, and that's a matter that demands the acquiescence and support of the people, regardless of how the diplomats need us to label it.

To be taken seriously in the mainstream, those who won't get on board will have to present concrete reasons beyond the evidence-ignoring pastiches we've seen so far. A vote will force them to make a choice. In the first Gulf War, politicians could afford to be on the wrong side of the vote. The threat was indirect and dispersed internationally over the long term. But this time, the threat is of domestic terrorism.

Vote against Gulf War I and you could call it a principled stand. The basis of the war and the muddled way it came out meant you could still defend your vote. But vote against Gulf War II, and principles won't be worth a day-old cookie when American troops emerge from Baghdad with artifacts from chemical weapons plants, bio-terror operations, and nuclear labs they found as they swept across Saddam's last outposts in that scrap of desert from the old Ottoman Empire.

For that minority who ultimately votes against the war, the day of reckoning will come in their next election day. All the sincerity in the world won't save them from voters who will have lately decided that the heartfelt principles of their representative nearly left in place a violent dictator with designs on their country and their lives.

President Bush, ask Congress to vote on Iraq right now. Give 'em what they say they want. And watch them come into line, or at least conduct their debate at something above the political mugging into which it has lately descended.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
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01/08/02: Desperate Dems
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12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
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09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
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07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long