Entries from February 2003

Iraq Will Test Bush’s Spiritual Bond With Americans

David Frum February 24th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Bush soon may give one of the most awesome orders of his presidency: the
command that sends U.S. troops into battle against Saddam Hussein. How does a
president contemplate such a decision? Where does he look for guidance and

presidents have different answers. Some, such as Ronald Reagan and Woodrow
Wilson, were known for their ability to think ideologically as presidents.
Others, such as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, were nearly pure pragmatists.
George W. Bush belongs to a very different third category: He’s a leader who
thinks in terms of morality and faith.

people are disturbed by the president’s faith.

Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State complained to
The (Baltimore) Sun: "The tone set by Bush is, ‘I am a
Christian; I’m going to tell you about it on a regular basis.’ It eventually
gets very exclusionary."

of the president’s foreign policy often single out Bush’s religion for attack.
The left-wing editors of The Progressive magazine denounce his
"messianic militarism." Overseas, Bush’s faith unnerves some of our
more secularized allies. On a program broadcast on Feb. 2, the BBC’s political
editor, Andrew Marr, explained how British Prime Minister Tony Blair "hates"
being asked about Bush’s faith: "He knows how damaging it is, and he knows
that a lot of people out there . . . regard the Bush crusade as, in some
respect, a fundamentalist religious one, and that terrifies him."

to these critics, foreign and domestic, Bush’s faith biases him toward
aggression: It makes him too quick to act, too eager to root out whatever he
regards as evil.

fears are misplaced. If anything, Bush’s religion biases him toward caution and

of the most self-revealing speeches of Bush’s presidency was the commencement
address he delivered at Yale in May 2001: "When I left here, I didn’t have
much in the way of a life plan. I knew some people who thought they did. But it
turned out that we were all in for ups and downs, most of them unexpected. Life
takes its own turns, makes its own demands, writes its own story. And along the
way, we start to realize we are not the author."

are not the author." If you want to understand Bush, remember that

is a leader who makes decisions quickly and instinctively, yet who calmly
waited more than a year after his "axis of evil" speech before taking
the final steps toward war in Iraq.

is a leader who takes terrible risks, yet not only seems but actually is serene
and confident, almost immune to temptations to fidget or second-guess.

explanation is Bush’s spirituality. He really does believe that after he has
done his best to make the right decision, the rest is up to God. Bush’s faith
can startle or even dismay more secular-minded people. I remember watching him
at a big December 2001 rally in Florida as he suggested that Americans pray to
God to protect their country with a spiritual shield. I looked at the crowd of
reporters scribbling furiously and wondered: "What on earth do they make
of that?" But whether they approved or not, that was Bush.

the issues, Bush remains in many ways a minority president. Even after his most
recent State of the Union, the Gallup Poll found that fewer than half of
Americans surveyed agreed with his policies on the economy or health care.
Barely half agreed with his policies on taxes, the environment or energy. Yet
more than 60% continue to approve of him. There’s a bond between Bush
and the American people that’s bigger than politics. They might not always
agree with what he does — but they trust him.

a new kind of leadership: a spiritual leadership. And in Iraq, it is about to
be put to its most severe test yet.

The ‘rush’ To War, And The Day After Never

David Frum February 24th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

often do we hear it said that America is "rushing toward war"?
Presidential candidate John F. Kerry warned against the "rush to war"
in a major speech at Georgetown University on January 23. The day before, the
leaders of France and Germany delivered a similar warning. So did the editors
of the New York Times.

everything is relative. Compared to the movement of the tectonic plates or the
cooling of the earth’s core, the United States is indeed hurtling headlong to
war. But by the normal standards of political life, the "rush to war"
is a rush only in the sense that 5 o’clock on the Santa Monica Freeway is the
"rush hour." The truth is that we have been inching toward war for
the past ten years — and there are still quite a number of inches left to

the summer of 1993, Iraqi agents attempted to murder former President Bush
during a visit to Kuwait. Assassinations of top political leaders are pretty
notoriously grounds for war — in fact, Saddam Hussein cited the mysterious
deaths of a number of his top officials as his justification for invading Iran
in 1980. If the United States had been eager for war with Iraq, the Bush plot
was a perfect excuse. Instead, President Clinton fired a couple of dozen cruise
missiles into downtown Baghdad.

little over a year later, Saddam Hussein abruptly massed 80,000 troops on
Iraq’s border with Kuwait. The U.N. Security Council passed yet another
resolution condemning Iraq (Number 949 this time). American and British units
rushed into the emirate to deter a second invasion of Kuwait — and then rushed
back out again.

1995, Saddam’s son-in-law defected to Jordan, delivering proof positive that
Saddam had successfully concealed a biological-weapons program from the U.N.
inspectors then operating in Iraq — but there was again no rush.

September 1996, Saddam Hussein invaded the Kurdish safe haven in northern Iraq.
The United States had promised to protect the Kurds. An unnamed high official
was quoted in news accounts at the time predicting that a military response was
"very likely"; Bill Clinton himself told the White House press corps
that "reckless acts have consequences." Now the rush seemed to be on
for sure — only it turned out that the consequences Clinton meant were another
flurry of cruise-missile strikes.

1998, the U.N. inspections regime in Iraq finally and definitively collapsed.
The U.N. passed another passel of resolutions; at year’s end, Clinton ordered
up another flurry of air strikes to coincide with the impeachment vote. When
Clinton’s trial ended, so did the air strikes. No rush there.

was there any rushing after George W. Bush took over in January 2001. The new
president seemed more than content to wait for later — maybe a second term –
before taking action against the dictator who had outlasted two hostile U.S.
presidents. After 9/11, it’s true that some people around President Bush began
to question the Clinton policy of leaving Saddam in power more or less
indefinitely. And in January 2002, President Bush’s "axis of evil"
speech warned that more decisive action against Iraq would come soon.

was a time when a year was considered a long time in warfare. But although in
every other aspect of life things seem to be speeding up, apparently when it
comes to fighting, time is slowing down, and what was once considered merely a
brisk speed now feels like a dizzying whirl.

months after Pearl Harbor, and the United States was already in Sicily; 18
months since 9/11, and every one of the world’s terror regimes except
Afghanistan is exactly where it was a year and a half ago. Well, not exactly
where it was: Libya has been promoted from mere membership of the U.N. Human
Rights Commission to actual chairmanship of it. Otherwise, no signs of motion.

ever any administration has moved with deliberate speed, it is this one. But no
matter how slowly it moves, it is never slow enough. No matter how often it
makes its case, it has never made the case enough. And no matter how much
evidence of Saddam’s dangerousness it adduces, the evidence is never convincing
enough. When, do you suppose, would John Kerry and President Chirac and the
editors of the New York Times think it a good time to overthrow Saddam?
After another three months? Or six? Isn’t it really the day after never?

is not the speed of war that disturbs them. It is the fact of war. But this
time, the fact of war is inescapable. War was made on the United States, and it
has no choice but to reply. But there is good news: If the preparations for the
Iraq round of the war on terror have gone very, very slowly, the Iraq fight
itself is probably going to go very, very fast. The shooting should be over
within just a very few days from when it starts. The sooner the fighting begins
in Iraq, the nearer we are to its imminent end. Which means, in other words,
that this "rush to war" should really be seen as the ultimate
"rush to peace."

Our Man For Iraq

David Frum February 20th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

There’s an old joke about the Air Force major assigned to brief a superior officer about the latest Cold War contingency plan. He finishes triumphantly: “And that is how we intend to destroy the enemy!”

The superior shakes his head wearily. “Young man, the Soviets are our adversary. The Navy is the enemy.”

If you’ve done much newspaper reading in recent weeks, you have probably noticed all those stories — some datelined Washington, some datelined northern Iraq — about the latest flare-up between the U.S. government and the main Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress. It’s enough to make you wonder whether some people in the U.S. government don’t see Saddam as merely the adversary — and the INC as the real enemy.

The INC is an assembly of many different groups united by their determination to overthrow Saddam and build a more liberal Iraq. It is made up of Kurds as well as Arabs, socialists and free-marketeers, Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shi’ites, secular intellectuals and tribal traditionalists. The INC is led by Ahmed Chalabi, a descendant of one of Iraq’s most prominent families; an American-educated businessman who is as democratic, market-oriented, and pro-Western as any leader the Arab world has produced in half a century. Even Chalabi’s many Iraqi critics acknowledge his moderation and tolerance. “I know this about Ahmed,” one of them once said to me: “If I disagree with him, he won’t murder me. By Iraqi standards, that’s very impressive.”

Over the years, Chalabi’s democratic vision for Iraq has won the support of Americans across the political spectrum. He’s admired by Iraq hawks like Richard Perle, Joe Lieberman, and John McCain — and also by Iraq doves like Joe Biden. He has been joined by Iraq’s most famous writer, the democratic exile Kanan Makiya. In 1998, Congress appropriated nearly $100 million in aid for the INC.

Most of that money, however, has never been paid. For if Congress supports the INC, large elements of the U.S. foreign-policy bureaucracy hate it with a hatred hotter than any emotion they evince toward Saddam Hussein.

In the 1990s, the INC’s CIA handlers forbade the group to conduct operations on Iraqi soil. Since 9/11, the State Department has shunned the INC in favor of its own creation, the Iraqi National Accord, a collection of former generals and other associates of Saddam.

A poisonous stream of not-for-attribution quotes about the INC has flowed from State and CIA into any newspaper willing to print them. Chalabi, it’s said, is corrupt, ineffective, and an Iranian spy. “He could fight you for the last petit four on the tray over tea at the Savoy,” one bitter former official told The New Yorker last April, “but that’s about it.”

Who’s right? What’s going on?

As always in Washington, there is a back-story — and then a story back of the back-story.

The back-story is this: In the 1990s, the Clinton administration organized a series of covert operations against Saddam’s government. They all failed dismally, and many of the Iraqis who took part in them died gruesome deaths. The organizers of these operations felt shame, guilt — and a desperate desire to fix the blame for repeated disaster on somebody else.

The INC was an especially attractive target for the blame-shifters because Chalabi had repeatedly warned that the covert operations would fail — and in Washington, there are few sins quite so unforgivable as being right when everyone else is wrong. Actually, there is one worse sin: advocating bold action when everyone around you has shamefacedly decided that they would prefer to do nothing.

Chalabi kept arguing that the way to defeat Saddam was not with a plot, but with INC ground forces backed by U.S. airpower: the same tactic that would triumph in Afghanistan in 2001. The Clinton NSC team loathed this idea, and they fiercely resented Chalabi for pushing it.

The grudge endured into the Bush administration because, for reasons that remain very hard to understand, the Bush team kept much of the old Clinton national-security apparatus on the job for many months — in some cases more than a year — after Inauguration Day. And nowhere did change come more slowly than in those parts of the NSC that deal with the Middle East. Long after Clinton had left Washington to give speeches about how he came this close to making up his mind to wage war against Saddam Hussein, the people he hired were still at their desks waging war against Ahmed Chalabi.

That’s the back-story. Now the back-back-story. Since the population of Iraq is nearly two-thirds Shi’ite Muslim, a more representative political system will probably bring to power a government drawn from the Shi’ite majority. Chalabi himself comes from a prominent Shi’ite family. And this prospect is very frightening to the Sunni Arabs of the Persian Gulf — and their many and influential friends and protectors in the West.

Even without the religious element, the idea of representative government being established anywhere in the Arab world dismays and appalls other Arab governments. That’s understandable enough: The Arab world is a fractious and fragile place, super-saturated in extremism — it’s easy to conjure up nightmare scenarios about what could happen if the people of the Arab world were ever allowed to express themselves freely.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine America intervening in Iraq without at least attempting to leave behind some better system of government. Americans cannot make Iraq a liberal democracy. But only Americans can give Iraq a chance at liberal democracy. It is vital that Americans choose wisely — and it is necessary that America choose soon. If we wait to choose until the shooting stops, we may find that power in Iraq has already fallen into the hands of the very last people we should trust: those members of Saddam’s entourage who switched sides at the opportune moment.

Beyond Duct Tape: The Best Defense Is A Strong Offense

David Frum February 19th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

WASHINGTON — It’s been just a week since Homeland Security officials advised Americans to prepare their home emergency kits, and already “duct tape” is the punch line to a thousand jokes. David Letterman even suggested that 3M adopt a new corporate motto: “Defending America Since 1903.”

Now it’s time to enter a dissent. In many ways, the duct-tape episode showed America at its best.

The episode showed that a government that had been caught off guard on Sept. 11 had learned its lesson: It was sharing information with the people and giving useful guidance on how that information should be used. I live in Washington, D.C., and I’m very glad to know that people in the government are thinking hard about what citizens should do in case of a chemical or radiological attack.

The episode reflected well on the American people too. The newspapers reported “panic buying,” but I didn’t see any panic at my grocery store — only citizens heeding warnings from their government and taking practical steps to protect themselves and their families. Back in the 1990s, political scientists used to worry about Americans’ loss of trust in their institutions. Those emptied-out aisles where bottled-water used to be are the best evidence to date of trust regained.

Nevertheless, it’s plain that the government cannot put Americans through too many more experiences like last week’s without undermining that trust. If the incident proved in the end to be the stuff of comedy, it contained some serious lessons about the potential weakness in our new Department of Homeland Security.

– Fascination with disaster. People who study terrorism often worry so much about the disasters that might happen that they end up believing that these disasters will happen. For them, it is only a matter of time before bombs go off in lower Manhattan and nerve gas seeps under the front doors of Brentwood. I worked with some of these experts during my time in government. I can attest to their frustration with the complacency they perceive all around them — and to the allure of the temptation to jolt the complacent into greater alertness.

After Sept. 11 we have to assume that anything is possible. But it’s still not true that everything is equally probable. There’s an almost infinite list of terrorist disasters that might occur — but before officials go frightening the public by discussing any particular one of them, they ought to be very sure that this risk is significantly larger than the others. They may think they are just speculating aloud. But scary talk is not risk free. Some early reports indicate that the people who panicked in the Chicago nightclub disaster early Monday morning feared that terrorists were spewing poison gas at them.

– Fear of controversy. Personal emergency kits rank pretty far down the list of things America needs to safeguard itself against Middle Eastern terror. It would be much more useful to enforce immigration laws more tightly, expand police surveillance powers, send more terror suspects to military rather than civilian tribunals, and modernize and extend the laws against criminal conspiracy. All of those steps, however, are bitterly controversial — and so politicians and bureaucrats alike prefer to avoid mentioning them.

– The chatter option. Talking about emergency kits and evacuation routes can be a way to talk tough about terror without actually having to take the risks of being tough. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called a press conference last week to call for greater federal aid to state and local governments in the name of, yes, “homeland security.” Next you’ll hear that she wants reduced Medicare copayments in the name of counter-terrorism.

But it’s not just congressional Democrats who shy away from the hard business of counter-terrorism. Duct-tape may be funny. But a federal official who called for muscular IRS investigation of Islamic charities suspected of funneling money to terrorists would have to brace himself for a more vigorous response than laughter.

– Creeping bureaucratization. Middle Eastern terrorism originates in the Middle East — and the Middle East is where it will have to be defeated. All that can be done in the U.S. is, at best, to thwart terror, at worst to care for terrorism’s victims. A Homeland Security failure can produce a catastrophic defeat in the War on Terror — but Homeland Security will never win it.

Most people in the new Department of Homeland Security will cheerfully acknowledge their limited role. But the human mind can acknowledge something without fully accepting it. It would be natural for Homeland Security to begin perceiving the CIA and the armed services less as America’s striking force in the War on Terror and more as competitors and rivals for funding and attention. Just this past weekend, the Washington Post ran a lengthy story full of not-for-attribution complaints that the Bush budget for 2004 allotted a bigger percentage increase to the Pentagon than to Homeland Security.

The large public response to the duct-tape press conference reminds us of the potential for bureaucratic rivalry between departments to bias judgments about the balance between the two fronts — home, where the war on terror cannot be won, and overseas, where it can.

We’re still learning how to fight the War on Terror. The duct-tape binge gave us a good lesson. Now let’s put that lesson to good use.

Not What They Say, But What They Do

David Frum February 10th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

my ears deceive me or do I hear a certain grumbling among conservatives about
President Bush’s intervention in the University of Michigan affirmative-action

were surely pleased by the decision to intervene itself. Bush condemned the
University of Michigan’s racial preferences as unconstitutional — and
announced that his administration would file a friend-of-the-court brief saying
so. The final word in the case, formally known as Grutter v. Bollinger, will of
course be pronounced by the Supreme Court. But solicitor general Theodore Olson
has an awfully good win-loss record before this court. By ordering Olson to go
argue against the university, Bush has made it just that much more likely that
the good guys will win this fight.

why all the grumbling?

first there was the statement Bush issued. In twelve paragraphs, he managed to
use the words "diverse," "diversity," and their cognates
ten different times. "Diversity" is one of those words (like
"compassion" or "infrastructure") that are often used as
code for something ugly (racial quotas, in the case of "diversity,"
welfare-state spending in the case of "compassion," public-works
boondoggling in the case of "infrastructure"). Very understandably,
conservative ears twitch when they hear such words coming from the mouth of a
Republican president. Conservatives wonder whether they aren’t hearing the
preamble to a sell-out.

more alarming, to some, was the argument in the brief that the Bush
administration filed in the case. It argued that Michigan did not need to use
racial preferences to achieve "diversity" because there were
race-neutral ways to achieve the same result — such as the "10 percent
plan" used in Texas. This plan grants automatic admission to the state
university system to any student who graduates in the top 10 percent of his
high-school class regardless of SAT scores.

principled opponents of quotas have condemned automatic-admission plans as
quota schemes in disguise. The administration’s seeming endorsement of them in
its brief is, for such critics, simply an unusually roundabout way of staging a

look at what the administration has actually done — not what critics fear it
might do — and you see a very different and far more encouraging picture.

is indeed true: The administration has not called on the Court to throw out the
system of state-enforced "diversity" with one mighty judicial heave.
And for good reason. Briefs to the Supreme Court are not exercises in
self-expression. They are arguments intended to persuade judges to vote one way
rather than another.

the nine justices on today’s Court, seven are probably unpersuadable by even
the most brilliant brief. Four judges (Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens)
can be counted on to favor almost all racial-preference schemes; three
(Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas) can be counted on to oppose them. So everything
turns on the opinions of just two people: Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day
O’Connor. It would do no good at all to hand in a brief that delighted the
readers of National Review if it alienated the two of them.

it happens, both these judges are extremely cautious people, and O’Connor in
particular is famous for her dislike of abstract legal principles. Many
conservative legal writers have criticized O’Connor for her "I know it
when I see it" approach to the law. Those criticisms may be valid. But the
solicitor general has to take his judges as he finds them. If they tend to
issue ad hoc, not-very-principled rulings that leave their options open for
future cases, that tendency is a fact with which he must cope. He has to show
them how they can reach the result he wants using the mode of legal reasoning
they prefer.

is precisely what the administration’s brief in Grutter v. Bollinger
does. Again and again it assures the Court that it can strike down the
University of Michigan’s racial-preference system without laying down any broad
new principles about what universities may and may not do about race. It only
asks them to say that the universities may not do what the University of
Michigan has done — and that already would be a fine beginning.

brief does not ask the Supreme Court to order universities to adopt the Texas
plan. It cites the plan simply as an alternative that states can adopt if they
wish to increase minority enrollment without violating the Constitution. The
plan may be educationally lousy. But it is unquestionably legal. And without
the show of such a legally valid alternative, this court and these justices
could not be persuaded to strike down the Michigan plan at all.

a lesson in the conservative unease about the Bush brief, and it is a lesson
that extends far beyond this case and far beyond even the large subject of

almost always adopts conservative policies, but he almost never uses
conservative rhetoric. He does what conservatives would wish, but he seldom
does it in the way conservatives would wish. He writes a supply-side tax cut –
and sells it with old-fashioned Keynesian arguments about getting people
spending again. He stiffens America’s internal security — while refusing ever
to name the enemies he is securing the country against. It can be maddening.
And yet it works.

very likely that the Supreme Court will accept the Bush administration’s
reasoning and strike down the Michigan racial-preference plan. It’s very
unlikely that the ruling will insist on the principled racial neutrality in
which conservatives believe. It will probably be imperfect. But it will be
progress. Which is exactly what you’d say about the Bush administration as a

France Bristles In A U.s. World

David Frum February 8th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

>WASHINGTON – Let’s try for a moment to see the world from France’s
point of view.

>For nearly half a century, the French have tried to recapture their
former greatness by creating a united Europe with France in charge. The European
Economic Community was headquartered from the beginning in Brussels, a
predominantly French-speaking city. For a long time it excluded Britain,
because — unlike the guilt-ridden Germans — the British refused to take
orders from Paris. When at last Britain was admitted, it had to accept a deal
that transferred billions of dollars a year from British taxpayers and
consumers to French farmers. Today, no country in Europe pays more and gets
less from the European Union than Britain.

>In the 1980s, French hopes for the future seemed on the verge of being
realized. More and more powers were transferred from the member states of the
EU to the bureaucracy in Brussels. Ingenious non-tariff barriers locked cheap
U.S. food and superior Japanese products out of the European market, to the
benefit of inefficient French producers. The European Union developed its own
European law, largely based on French law. There began to be talk of the
development of a European army (to be commanded, naturally, by a French general)
and of a European foreign policy, more independent from America.

>This highly satisfactory situation collapsed when the Soviet Union
did. And since 1991, the world has evolved in directions that the leaders of
France find frustrating and even dangerous.

>First, the 1990s revolution in personal computing destroyed all those
1980s illusions that Europe and Japan would soon go “head to head”
against American technological dominance.

>Next, the overwhelming American victory in the Gulf War — and the
inability of Europe to match it in the Balkans — underscored the immense
disparity between U.S. and European military power.

>Then the economies of continental Europe slumped into a decade of
stagnation. Between 1990 and 2000, the U.S. economy created 30 million net new
private-sector jobs. The continent of Europe failed to create even one.

>Finally, the liberated countries of Central and Eastern Europe began
joining the EU. And guess which language it is that every ambitious young
person from the Baltic to the Black Sea wants to learn? And guess whose
companies they want to work for? And guess whose military they expect to
protect them from danger?

>Sinister as these developments are from from the French point of view,
the events since 9/11 have been far worse. Official Paris could not feel more
threatened by the War on Terror if U.S. President George W. Bush had added
France to the Axis of Evil.

>The outcome in Afghanistan destroyed any lingering French hopes of
persuading the rest of Europe to accept French military leadership. As wide as
the military gap between France and the United States was in 1991, it is 10
times wider today.

>Central European countries such as Poland and Bulgaria treasure their
new NATO membership — and look for opportunities to prove themselves loyal
NATO allies. The reason that French President Jacques Chirac invited German
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Paris to make a joint anti-American statement
was precisely that he knew he had no hope of getting such a statement adopted
by the EU as a whole. In fact, nearly two dozen European nations have now
pledged their support for whatever the United States chooses to do in Iraq.

>Meanwhile, the impending overthrow of Saddam Hussein threatens to make
obsolete France’s traditional Middle Eastern policy of befriending and arming
the region’s dictators. France has courted Saddam Hussein for three decades: In
fact, it was Jacques Chirac who made the decision to sell Saddam the nuclear
reactor that the Israeli Air Force destroyed in 1981.

>Now Saddam is about to be overthrown and replaced by new leaders who
will regard Saddam’s former friends as their worst enemies. Nor is the future
looking much healthier for France’s other pet despots in the region, Bashar
Assad and Yasser Arafat. No wonder France seems determined to sabotage
America’s Iraq policy, at almost any cost.

>At almost any cost — but not quite at any cost. The brute fact is
that in the end, France needs the United States a lot more than the United States
needs France. France’s veto at the UN Security Council has certainly
complicated America’s hopes of winning the propaganda benefits of obtaining
another Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
But President Bush has made plain that a veto will not stop the United States
from doing what he feels it must do. Meanwhile, the terror networks that
threaten the United States threaten France even more directly. France cannot
afford to isolate itself from U.S. intelligence information. Nor will the
French government want to be locked out of America’s decision-making for a
post-Saddam Middle East.

>So in the end, despite all their envy and resentment, the French will
do what they have so often done in the face of superior power: knuckle under
and kiss up. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of fellas either.