- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Governors make great candidates for president and they usually have a solid grasp of domestic affairs, better than anyone in Washington, and what the people beyond the Beltway really want.

But they usually don't have a clue about what goes on beyond the seas.

Jimmy Carter meant well, and he was a disaster, as we were quickly to learn. The Iranians took hostages because they figured, accurately, that he wouldn't do anything about it.

Ronald Reagan was the exception to the rule that governors don't know beans about foreign affairs. Sacramento was merely a whistle-stop on the Gipper's journey to Washington, and he came to the presidency with a well-formed view of the world, who the bad guys were and what he could, and would, do about them. The result was the end of the Cold War on American terms. The world, just now beginning to realize it, will owe him forever.

Bill Clinton arrived in town ready to feel everyone's pain, and just in time to inherit a nation with a large component of crybabies eager to parade their pain. He was a boffo hit at home, but Saddam Hussein hung him out to dry on the road and Yasser Arafat ironed him flat. He left office with the consolation that he not only wrecked Al Gore's campaign, he wrecked Ehud Barak's government.

Which brings us to George W. Bush. The Texas governor is a bit of a genetic anomaly, the son of a president who knew all about foreign affairs and who didn't have much interest in the domestic stuff. He got bounced because Bill Clinton felt a lot of pain.

George W. had a front-row seat for that campaign, and saw what happened to the old man, and he would make sure that wouldn't happen to him. And so he didn't, and hasn't. He's sticking by a tax cut popular with nearly everyone. You can tell it's popular because the Democrats are pushing a smaller tax cut, and if they hadn't lost the election you can be sure they wouldn't offer a tax cut at all. Democratic hearts break at the prospect of enabling plain folks to spend their own money.

If George W. maintains his present schedule we won't need to hire those additional teachers. He'll teach the kids himself. He's hopscotching across America, dropping in on every schoolroom with an empty blackboard and a book that he can read to the kids. Good politics. He can measure his success in breaking down partisan hard feeling by the noise of Democrats grumbling that he's not playing fair. He's supposed to be an old meanie, but nobody any longer thinks that. Well, maybe Maxine Waters.

Unfortunately, his lack of attention to what's going on across the waters (as they say in rural Texas) is about to incur costs. Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East, offering Saddam Hussein everything he wants without extracting anything in return, was either a stunning miscalculation or an astonishing reach for power.

If the general's offer of concessions to Saddam a "refinement" of sanctions and softening of the demand for inspection of suspect sites of weapons of mass destruction was settled administration policy before he left for the Middle East the administration made a breathtaking mistake in not offering an explanation for this remarkable U-turn in U.S. policy. Worse, if the general made the concessions on his own.

Saddam's ambitions are clear enough. The first President Bush vowed, on the eve of the Gulf war, that "this aggression will not stand." And for a few incredible weeks, as American and allied forces routed the Iraqi army with dazzling speed and efficiency, it looked like George H.W. Bush was right. The aggression would not stand.

But in the end it did. General Powell persuaded President Bush to end the war just as Saddam was teetering on the eve of destruction. With the war having ended prematurely imagine World War II as ending with the liberation of Paris Saddam was free to rebuild his shattered army and resume his research and manufacture of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Vice President Cheney says that returning the United Nations inspectors to Iraq, to determine what Saddam is up to as set out in United Nations resolutions, is no longer as important as we were told it was. This may be an attempt to save the general's face. But Colin Powell himself told us how important the inspections were just before he left for the Middle East. The secretary, and presumably the president, now believe that "refined" sanctions will bring the Arab and European allies, such as they are, back into step with the United States. The betting here is that this will never happen, and United Nations inspectors have seen the last of Iraq. Aggression stands, Saddam won, and 148 American men and women died for what?

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