In the Arena

White House Kool-aid Patrol

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Peter Wehner, the White House’s intellectual-in-residence, is selling his usual brand of kool-aid regarding John Edwards’ foreign policy speech yesterday. Some thoughts:

1. Edwards is precisely right. The “Global War on Terror” is a bumper sticker and a disastrous one at that. If this actually were a war, the President would have (a) raised taxes to pay for it, (b) instituted a military draft, (c) launched an all-out drive to eliminate dependence on middle eastern oil and (d) mobilized the populace to take action–collecting clothes for Iraqi children, whatever–in order to maintain public and military morale. All he has done is make speeches, using the most extravagant, messianic and bellicose rhetoric imaginable. He also told us to go shopping. The purpose of all this hoo-hah has been to win elections by broad-brushing Democrats as weak and unpatriotic and, after a while, divert attention from the wild stupidity of his Iraq invasion.

2. Most every member of the uniformed military and intelligence community I speak with now believes the war in Iraq was a tragic diversion from the real conflict–and yes there is a real conflict–against violent Islamist extremists. The proper course of action was the one prescribed by John Kerry and ridiculed by Bush in 2004: After taking out the Taliban and eliminated Al Qaeda’s safe havens in Afghanistan, all attention should have been focused on a Global Police Action Against Terrorists using multinational intelligence services and covert operators to hunt down, capture and sometimes use lethal force against the bad guys. This constant, low-intensity struggle lacked the Big Bang that tough guys Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted, but it would have had the support of the world.

Bush first puffed Osama Bin Laden–a monster who needed to be eliminated, to be sure–into a global threat, then pretty much forgot about him and is now using Al Qaeda (inaccurately) as his latest casus belli in Iraq. No wonder the CIA assumed–as reported by Ron Suskind in his book The 1% Doctrine–that Osama verbally attacked Bush on the eve of the 2004 election because he wanted to help Bush get reelected! No terrorist could dream of a better p.r. man than George W. has been for Osama.

3. Wehner is right in saying that Edwards doesn’t spend much time talking about the bad guys. It’s important that something rational be said about this threat. The Bush Administration certainly hasn’t done so. It tends to buy utopian neoconservative fantasies or quasi-racist musings of elderly scholars like Bernard Lewis: The Arabs only understand strength. Edwards certainly isn’t nearly as knowledgeable as, say, Hillary Clinton on national security matters. The question is, is George W. Bush any more knowledgeable, even after six plus years in office?

4. Wehner doesn’t mention much about the lives lost and shattered, the vast damage that has been done to America’s reputation in the world and the credibility given to the very worst Salafists and mullahs, by the calamity he has supported without a second thought for so long. Soon he’ll be back in the job market and while I’m sure that the American Enterprise Institute has a chair all warmed up for him, I have two pieces of career advice: Stop writing this swill and think about penance. Take some time to clear your head, a lot of time, and pay for your sins by emptying bedpans at Walter Reed.

Revised slightly at 1:40 pm.