Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Since September 11, it has become fashionable to speak of President Bush growing in office. This is always an ominous compliment for a Republican office-holder. The underlying assumption regarding such growth is that a Republican grows into a Democrat the way a tadpole grows into a frog. It’s a matter of maturing, don’t you know. Having seen the wider world, the growing Republican finally comes to understand the wisdom of Democratic Party policies.

Democratic politicians, and the many media savants who share their world view, particularly savored complimenting Mr. Bush for his growth in finally understanding the dreadful inadequacy of unilateralism in foreign policy. His awkward unilateral rejection of the global warming treaty and his stubborn insistence on building a missile defense have been cited repeatedly as examples of his tadpole stage of development.

But it was the building of a war coalition by Secretary of State Colin Powell on the president’s behalf that brought out the self-admiring, avuncular chuckling of these Olympian minds. The weekly “news” magazines and the New York Times found ample space to quote Democratic senators pointing out that when the chips were down, Mr. Bush had to give up his campaign-announced disdain of multilateralism and ask for the help of many other countries in fighting terrorism.

Several elite news outlets helpfully pointed out that during the campaign Mr. Bush could only identify the president of Pakistan by the phrase “that general,” but now he is actually chatting with Gen. Perves Musharraf. Oh, the joy of seeing the Texas cowboy being fitted for striped trousers and wing-tip shoes. (By the way, don’t expect to ever hear Gen. Musharraf’s name mentioned on the evening news again, until the day he leaves office.)

Of course, no Republican office-holder has officially grown until, as in an old Soviet show trial, the defendant confesses. In the current edition of Newsweek during an extended exclusive interview with the president the Newsweek interviewer does the deed, asking the president: “Have you grown in any sense, do you think?”

I was hoping that Mr. Bush would say no, he is down to a 32-inch waist. But his answer was good enough. He said “Of course I think that I’ve always been the kind of person who has been able to deal with the circumstances in which I find myself.” In a desperate effort to imply a confession of growth, the editors of Newsweek put a period after the phrase, “Of course.” But no renegade punctuation could change the meaning of his answer which went on for a long paragraph explaining how he has not changed.

In fact, it is beginning to dawn on a few of the more astute European multilateralists that Mr. Bush is not in fact their brother under the skin. The Europeans, after spending the last decade relishing their prideful equivalence and opposition to the American hyper-puissance (hyper-power being even bigger than super-power) have been begging since September 11 to join the “coalition” as equal or almost equal partners with the United States.

First, Mr. Bush told the French that they could send some troops, but no, they could not sit in the strategy sessions and leak operational details to the enemy as they did in the Kosovo war. Then he told the British that they couldn’t send in their 6,000 troops because it would offend the Northern Alliance. In other words, we welcome the help and advice of fellow civilized nations in the battle against terrorism, but we are not going to yield our prerogative to make our own strategic and tactical decisions.

A few days ago the liberal, hyper-multilateralist British newspaper, the Manchester Guardian, cogently observed that “The president is mobilising an American national will such as we have not seen [since WWII] … Europeans should reflect on the hard-eyed national commitment that differentiates the American mood from that of any other country. This, rather than the diplomatic niceties of coalition building will mainly determine what happens next … Every EU country, not to mention Russia and most of the Middle East [are for] the slow road of economic and diplomatic action, rather than the [American] fast track of bulldog threats followed by instant bombing … But as time passes, they’re drawn ineluctably into a campaign over which they will have ever less influence.”

In other words, we are going to lead a coalition, not be led by one. This is as it should be. A bloated, cumbersome war council saps the fighting vigor, strategic cunning and nimbleness of any war effort.

The next big test of American leadership will come when most probably we designate the defeat of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as the second campaign of the war. We then will surely hear gasps and grumblings from the Urals to the Hudson and Potomac rivers. But, if the Manchester Guardian is right and I think it is the steady nerves of the American heartland will embolden our allies to follow us toward our inevitable victory.

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