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The Bully Syndrome

Exclusive commentary by Greg Lewis /
March 25, 2003

It is still amazing — and not a little bit repugnant — to think of the diplomatic shenanigans our President has felt it necessary to go through in order to get the United States to the place where it feels justified in the eyes of the "international community" in launching a so-called "pre-emptive" strike against Iraq. (Even the language favored in the public discourse — in this case "pre-emptive," which has about it the taint associated with a sneak attack — skews the debate toward the liberal/critical point-of-view.) In an important sense it boils down to this: U.S. diplomats have been working overtime to try and convince the world that the United States is not a bully.

Diplomatic intricacies aside, the costs involved in negotiating the world's good will border on the astronomical. Until its parliament balked by default, Turkey was poised to extort some US$ 26 billion for the use of its territory as a launching point for American ground troops. Chirac's losing favor with his soon-to-be-deposed despot buddy, Saddam Hussein, figured to be a bit trickier, but what's US$ 30 billion in oil contracts among weasels? (One recalls the old joke whose punchline is: We've already established what you are, we're just haggling over the price.) President Bush — at the potential risk of the lives of American troops and the image of the United States in the world — has engaged in this charade for more than six months, while supporters of a quick resolution to the situation, including some of the President's own advisors, have champed at the bit. Bush has, for reasons I can only ascribe to the unshakeable principles of a moral man, truly exhausted all non-military options in trying to resolve this impasse.

Lost in the immediacy of the recently initiated military action is the fact that these days the Left, always haggling over price and always in the dark about who the real bullies are, is having increasing difficulty figuring out which murderous dictators to support and which to revile. Not only that, when they find one to support — in this case Saddam Hussein — they can't quite figure out how to do it. Peter Jennings, in a breathtakingly illogical and contradictory piece of journalistic commentary, asserted late last week that the Iraqi people have good reason to hate America because "the United States [has] enabled Saddam Hussein to stay in power."

It doesn't much matter who America sides with or who it wages war against, it's always going to be the wrong guy as far as the Peter Jenningses of the world are concerned. In the 1950s, '60s, and '70s it was easy: Communism was the enemy of the United States and therefore the friend of the Left. From Che Guevara to Ho Chi Minh, from Chairman Mao to Pol Pot, the more despicable and murderous the autocrat the better as far as the Left was concerned. Today the Left is even willing to overlook the fact that you might be of suspect race or ethnicity as long as you're an anti-American activist. That, of course, leaves Miguel Estrada and Clarence Thomas out in the cold, despite their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Perhaps President Bush is paying obeisance to a world order that even he realizes is out of date, a world order built on the assumption that, notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary, heads of state are all, somehow, at bottom, men of good will, you know, and that good sense will prevail, and those intractable Baathists will come 'round, you know, chaps, the way reasoning men must . . .

Our President has spent the past half year trying to negotiate away the United States' undeserved image as a bully. We've got an economy which is an order of magnitude larger than that of any other country in the world; we've got the only serious military force on the planet; and we've got the courage of our convictions (at least since George W. Bush has been in office) that defending a system of government which supports, nay encourages, the rights of citizens of all colors, ethnicities, and religious beliefs to be free to pursue their dreams, to better themselves, and to create opportunities for their children is worthwhile, not to say desirable. We are willing to back up, with all the moral and military might we can muster, the understanding that once oppressed people around the world get a sense of what this type of freedom means, they will understand what we're talking about and will want what we have for themselves.

Oh, and if you decide to get together with your top advisors, we can arrange to have a half dozen Cruise missiles coming through the back window of your bunker just about the time you're clearing your throat and getting ready to call the meeting to order. To which I say, Bully for the United States!

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