August 3, 2003

The boys who cried Wolfowitz

By: Eric Pfeiffer

With temperatures reaching 120 degrees in Baghdad, Democratic presidential hopefuls are making their own attempt to turn up the heat on President Bush. Over the past month, news headlines have obsessed over an imaginary crisis regarding the security situation in Iraq and whether the president has lost public credibility after uttering “16 infamous words” in his State of the Union Address. As with the dire forecasts preceding the Iraqi liberation, the truth is revealing itself to be a brighter picture than the critics had predicted or even hoped for. As Michael Barone noted in a recent U.S. News and World Report column, “You may have to search hard for it in most American news media, but there is good news coming from Iraq.”

The back of the Baathists has been broken. Uday and Qusay Hussein are dead. Thirty-eight of the 55 Iraqi most wanted have been captured or killed. Five to 10 of Saddam’s bodyguards were captured this week. Thousands of lower-level Baath Party loyalists have met the same fate. Sources from as high as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, down to Newsweek reporter Rod Nordland, are predicting Saddam Hussein’s imminent demise.

But what about those starving and disenfranchised Iraqis who are being mistreated by the U.S. occupation? As of this writing, 30,000 Iraqi police officers have been hired and are beginning to help in civil administration. Ninety percent of the country, including all major cities and 85 percent of towns, are described as being under the “peaceful control” of municipal councils formed by Iraqi citizens. The Iraqi governing council appointed by U.S. Civil Administrator Paul Bremer has received the approval of the United Nations. A rapid media evolution has taken place with more than 100 independent Iraqi news outlets already publishing. In the 45 days since major combat operations ended, power and water have been restored to prewar levels in most areas, with conditions improving daily. Food distribution is increasing and free-market enterprises are beginning to take hold.

So, where does that leave the pack of doom and gloom Democrats? Here’s Christopher Hitchens’ take from an appearance on CNBC’s Capital Report: “The same people on the whole who predicted that the war would not be a success are revisiting the way in which the war was fought by propaganda. They’re telling last April’s, last March’s, last February’s story instead of focusing on what’s happening in Iraq itself.” Of the 6 major candidates, 5 currently serve in Congress and 4 voted to give President Bush authority to invade Iraq. Their common defense has been to claim the president misled them and the American public over the threat leading up to war.

Let’s forget the shortcomings of screaming “No fair!” as a means of demonstrating presidential stature. And let’s forget the president’s address to the nation was given after the authorization vote had taken place. Their cries of being kept out of the loop don’t add up. As former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole noted on a recent Today show appearance, “They’ve had all the information that they’re now complaining about not knowing about. They just didn’t read it. Those that did read it are now very quiet.”

The truth is the American public still very much trusts President Bush to tell them the truth. Polls are unanimous in showing that the voting public continues to overwhelmingly prefer Bush and the GOP to Democrats on issues of national security. It’s true that the president’s approval ratings have dropped recently. But that’s due more to concerns over the jobless economic recovery, with over 75 percent of respondents saying the search for weapons of mass destruction is a dead issue.

First the left accused the White House of being unilateral and demanded a U.N. resolution before going to war. When all 15 Security Council members complied, implicating Saddam Hussein as being in violation of armament restrictions and setting an immediate deadline for him to comply with weapons inspections, that wasn’t enough. As war approached we were warned of terrorist attacks, an uprising in the Arab street, a military quagmire unseen since Vietnam and the collapse of the Middle East peace process. Strangely, none of that happened. But have any of these would-be national leaders rescinded on their false accusations? Of course not.

Well-intended criticism of the situation in Iraq should be welcome and noted. But most of what passes as critique from the half-dozen Democrats in the race for their party’s presidential nomination has more to do with polling than patriotism. In other words, rather than focusing their attention on improving conditions in Iraq, they have their targets aimed on a late summer segue into Boston next year. The good news, more and more in the public are taking note and tuning out.

Eric Pfeiffer is a writer in Washington, D.C.