- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

After Napoleon, there was Prince Metternich. The Austrian prince's powers of persuasion at the Congress of Vienna sorted out much of the world's political structure for the balance of the 19th century. Before September, George W. Bush was nobody's Metternich. The media took great pleasure in mocking his intellect and his oratory. But something subtle is happening now. Our president is neither Metternich nor the Godfather, but he's shaping the world by making offers people just have to refuse.
Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Bush does not deliver his speeches in a soup of carefully cooked-up emotions. When he stood before Congress and choked on a couple of words describing the horror of September 11, it was real. When he put his arm around a firefighter standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center, it was real. There's no trembling lower lip. His sense of reality is linked to a political shrewdness of the first order. Our president is making offers he knows the bad guys will refuse. By making these offers, he positions our enemies to fail and shoves fence-sitting nations off their neutral perch.
George W. seems to be maneuvering friend and foe alike in a way that should shorten the war against terrorism. First, the president gave the Taliban an ultimatum: Surrender bin Laden, close the terrorist camps, and let us in to verify what you've done. They refused. Then he renewed the offer, and they still refused. Next, the bombs and the cruise missiles started hitting their targets, and bin Laden essentially confessed to the acts of September 11. After a week of this, Mr. Bush told the Taliban to surrender bin Laden and his cohorts, show cooperation, and the bombs would stop falling. None of these offers is unreasonable.
The Taliban refused the offers as the president knew they would. By refusing, they did two things: first, they renewed Mr. Bush's credentials as the good guy. He has given them so many chances to avoid destruction that no one can reasonably criticize him for hitting the Taliban hard.
Second, the Taliban left themselves and those who would help them with no way out. The Taliban have chosen to fight and die for one of the world's great evils. By this repeated maneuvering, Mr. Bush has isolated the Taliban from any overt source of help, and weakened them considerably. They now are in a war that will force them from power, and kill many of them in the process.
The president realizes what he's doing and is wisely sticking with it. He is now applying the same formula to both the Palestinians and Saddam Hussein. When one reporter pressed him to say when he would meet with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Mr. Bush invoked his formula. He said he would try to move the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" ahead as soon as we get into the "Mitchell process." That "process" named for Mr. Clinton's special emissary George Mitchell requires the cessation of violence before any Palestinian state is established. It put part of the burden on the PLO not only to cease fire, but to actively enforce the peace against other groups in Palestine that commit much of the violence. Now the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister brings a refusal from Mr. Arafat to hand over the killers. The fact that he probably lacks the power to do so isn't something Mr. Arafat can admit. He just refuses. He, like the Taliban, hurts himself more than anyone else by refusing the president's offers.
The biggest target of Mr. Bush's method has used poison gas weapons against his own people. Saddam Hussein does nearly anything he pleases because our "allies" the Saudis especially have refused to condemn him, and have opposed our taking effective action against him. We have been at war with Iraq since 1991. There is a cease-fire agreement in effect, but no peace. Our pilots (and the RAF) fly combat missions against Iraqi positions every day enforcing the "no-fly" zone. The London Daily Telegraph reports that Saddam took new steps to hide the people and equipment involved in his weapons programs just before the September 11 attacks. If that's a coincidence, I'll eat Saddam's black beret.
Mr. Bush is laying down his markers against the Iraqi dictator. Mr. Bush hasn't made Saddam an offer yet, but he as much as said what it would be. He said it would clearly be to Iraq's advantage to allow U.N. inspectors back into Iraq to verify the destruction of its long range missiles and its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Mr. Bush knows Saddam Hussein will not let the inspectors back in, or if he does, he will not let them see what he has been doing. In 1998 the U.N. inspectors pulled out of Iraq because Baghdad refused to let them do their job. According to "The Greatest Threat," a history of the U.N.'s failed effort written by former chief U.N. inspector Richard Butler, the U.N. failed for two reasons. First, because Russia and China viewed Iraq as a client and joined with France (with its Iraqi oil deals) in voting against the inspections. Second, because Nobel Peace Laureate Kofi Annan was more interested in lifting the sanctions against Iraq than in the truth about Iraq's weapons.
The truth about those weapons is truly frightening. The Iraqis have apparently weaponized VX, probably the most lethal chemical known to man. The fatal dose is one drop. An Iraqi missile carrying 150 gallons of VX could kill one million people. Iraq has, or soon will have, tactical nuclear weapons as well. If we know anything about Saddam, it's that he'll use any weapon he has when he thinks it's time to do so.
The president must continue to lay down his markers in front of Iraq and the world. More than once, Saddam should be made offers he has to refuse. And then he and his regime should be removed permanently from the world scene.

Jed Babbin is former undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.


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