“He Kept Us Out of War” — Woodrow Wilson’s successful but prophetically flawed campaign slogan may be slightly altered in President Bush’s next run for office, to something like, “He Kept Us In a War.” But the depth of it, the breadth of it, and the objective of it may be as abstruse then as it is now.
Mr. Bush’s State of the Union Doctrine dwarfs President Monroe’s by encompassing the earth, not simply this hemisphere, and by being purposefully vague. What exactly is it we are forbidding other sovereign nations from doing? So astonishing and sweeping was the President’s new doctrine that none of the pundits apprehended it at first. The speech ended, several sniffed on camera that Mr. Bush had failed to mention Enron by name, and they maundered on. But none grasped the historical significance of it. “We are at war” has been repeated so often since September 11 that it has become one of those splat slogans for cable television. We have had U.S. forces fighting and dying for several months without a mention of the War Powers Act or any of several congressional hedges against undeclared actions initiated by a commander-in-chief. The very mention would seem unpatriotic.
The bellicose nature of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il has not changed through a series of grain shipments and briberies designed to wean Pyongyang from its nuclear course, yet how does this atheist nation relate to Iran and Iraq, whose religion, though sectified, is identifiable as a wellspring for our sorrows? What if Pyongyang will not obey Washington and continues to supply short range missiles to the Middle East and to develop its own nuclear capability? Are miniskirts really hanging in the closets of Tehran and Baghdad against that happy day when the GIs roll in, as some would have us believe? Or do the dour mullahs rule those roosts as securely as in the recent past? Did the Iranian “moderates” eat that cake and mutter death to America through the frosting?
We are introducing U. S. Forces into Basilan in the southern Philippines, where the heirs to Moro irridentists have held an American missionary couple hostage since last May and where Philippine troops have searched haplessly for weeks. Apparently the Pentagon will continue to respect the Philippine constitution which forbids active force from outside in such matters. Islam has been endemic there since before Magellan, when Arab merchants introduced Islam into the Philippines, and a Moro jihad has been in progress through vicissitudes of Spanish and American suzerainty. The helpless American couple was not mentioned in Mr. Bush’s speech. Is it true that the President’s speech at first named Iraq solely as malefactor, and that Iran and North Korea were added so as not to underscore Baghdad as an imminent target and scare the pants off a timid coalition?
What of the secret finding or executive order Bob Woodward reports the President has signed that authorizes the CIA to perform extra-special tasks in this world? Is it like the one President Reagan signed to cover the weapons deal with Iran, and will it have similar consequences for the office one day?
Let’s be clear. We are mad. Damn mad. We want Osama. Not alive. We root for President Bush as the repository of our hope for retribution. The hell with gravitas and grammar. Let’s roll.
But at half-time, another voice asks, “Okay, but where? With what?” Do we want another New Frontiersmanship, where we agree to fight their way; if they are arboreal, we’ll learn to climb trees, and if they are aquatic, then our Green Berets will swim out after ’em. Or should we now say “no.” Not that way again. There are 58,000 reasons down on a wall in the Mall for explaining that we are a technological nation, out of the trees and out of the water. We intend now legally to withdraw from inhibiting treaties and protocols, and free ourselves to prosecute the New Doctrine with new means.
A scene in a recent film is the metaphor for our time. “Indiana” Jones is confronted by a man in mufti who at a distance of ten yards is going through gyrations with a scimitar, preparatory to slicing Mr. Jones in half. Jones hesitates. Should he close with the adversary, try to quell him with his whip or bare hands? As the scimitar-wielder continues his swirling manual of arms, Jones decides, shrugs, draws his pistol and fires.
We own the pistol. For now.
(Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.)