Friday, February 14, 2003

And guess what? They're against us. A few days ago I was listening to a radio talk show -- I don't remember which one, but it was probably Bill O'Reilly's or Jay Severin's -- when a caller began to talk about the Bush Doctrine, which he defined as, "You're either with us or against us." The caller was being neither ironic nor sarcastic; indeed, it was clear that he was an admirer of the president's, and he spoke of the Bush Doctrine in the same reverential tones that earlier generations may have reserved for, say, the Monroe Doctrine.

The front page of today's New York Times shows where the Bush Doctrine has gotten us so far in regard to the war with Iraq. Our rift with Europe is deep and growing deeper. And, at home, a new Times/CBS poll shows that a broad expanse of the American public will support war only with a favorable vote of the UN Security Council, an uncertain prospect, needless to say. No doubt many will point to today's Times as just another example of Rainesian liberal bias. But I think it's evidence of far deeper problems.

Like many mainstream liberals, I've been on the fence about this war, more against it than for it, but nagged by the sense that something has to be done about Saddam Hussein's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, and of his obvious lust to develop nuclear weapons as well. Besides, Saddam presides over one of the cruelest regimes in the world. Would't his overthrow advance liberal goals? Even without embracing the more pie-in-the-sky scenarios of some of Bush's advisers?

Well, yes. But George W. Bush's very approach -- you're either with us or against us -- makes it impossible for me to say, "Okay, Mr. President, go ahead." He makes it sound so simple, and it's never that simple. And what about "Shock and Awe," the Pentagon war plan that may or may not call for the Hiroshima-style flattening of Baghdad during the war's opening days? Not going to win too many hearts and minds that way.

Earlier this week a friend of mine asked whether I was starting to lean toward war. I replied that I was still hoping it could be avoided. And we wondered: what would Bill Clinton have done? We both agreed that, with his masterful touch with the Europeans, the rift that Bush has helped create would be nonexistent.

Of course, there's a chance that Clinton would have smoothed over the differences by not being tough enough. Indeed, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer today blames all the troubles in the world on Clinton's eight years of inaction. But there was no national consensus during the Clinton years for the kind of effort that would have been needed to combat international terrorism in a comprehensive way. As they say, 9/11 changed everything.

We can't be sure that Clinton would have been any more successful than Bush. But given the results that the bullying Bush Doctrine have brought so far, it would be interesting to see how different things might be with some Clinton-style alliance-building instead.

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