- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

Last week, President Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleisher, accused the press of reaching "an absurd point of self-inflicted silliness," because it was more concerned with Iraq war policy than a private, presidential meeting on missile defense. Self-inflicted? It was the president who (correctly) warned us that Iraq is an evil, mortal danger to us, whose regime we must change sooner rather than later. He warned us that time is not on our side, and that we must act pre-emptively in order to save our very skins. It was his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who said last week that we don't have the luxury of doing nothing and that we had better act "sooner rather than later." And it is his generals, managed by his secretary of defense, who have been leaking proposed invasion plans to the prestige media on a regular basis.
Serious people, whether they agree with the president's policy or not, have taken the president's words seriously. While the president and his appointees have chosen to keep off the field of public debate regarding these life-and-death matters, he can hardly expect the press, experts and public to remain silent in the face of these unprecedented presidential suggestions that major war may be upon us "sooner rather than later." The press and public focus on Iraq is obviously not "self-inflicted," but, rather, presidentially inflicted.
Moreover, while the president and his appointees keep mum, opponents of his presumed policy have flooded newspapers and television, and are steadily degrading public support for what the president has very strongly suggested will be his war policy. In the last few weeks, public support for war with Iraq has slipped from about two-thirds to barely more than half. His supporters, including these pages, have joined public battle in an effort to sustain public support for that likely policy. If Mr. Fleisher thinks that publicly debating imminent war and peace involving weapons of mass destruction is silly, what exactly does he consider serious public policy?
And if he or the president think they can tell the public when to start thinking about war policy, they are tragically and foolishly mistaken. In a democracy, an essential component of a successful war strategy requires a marshalling of public support. In the aftermath of September 11, and after hearing the president's incisive and inspiring words at his January State of the Union address, an overwhelming majority of the public supported the president's unambiguous goals in Iraq. Since then, that precious public support has been carelessly mismanaged by the White House. Mr. Fleisher's smug, fatuous statement last week is merely the latest chapter in a lamentable story of war-communications mismanagement.
We will concede the possibility that Mr. Fleisher's comments may have been part of an elaborate U.S. disinformation effort to confuse Saddam Hussein into not expecting an imminent attack, in which case Mr. Fleisher has performed brilliantly.

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