- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

This is Tuesday, so it must be back to the war on Baghdad, or at least to the speculation that the president calls a "frenzy" and his chief flack calls "silly."

Dick Cheney was in Nashville yesterday, being "silly" by adding to the "frenzy".

He was there, laying out the White House case for a pre-emptive strike on Saddam Hussein before he can hit us first. The United States, he said, is in mortal danger and anyone who can't see that is guilty of "willful blindness."

"The risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action," he told a group of Veterans of Foreign Wars. "And the entire world must know that we will take whatever action is necessary to defend our freedom and security."

Strong stuff, and it sounds about right to most Americans, if the polls can be believed. The latest poll by The Washington Post shows that 69 percent of Americans favor military action to eliminate Saddam Hussein, and once the first shot is fired the majority will balloon overnight. But you can't blame George W. for being a little spooked by the unsubtle campaign by the left, a tiny splinter of the right, the Nervous Nellies, the Reluctant Rubies, the Equivocating Eunices and perhaps most of all by some of his daddy's men, including one or two who talked him into leaving the job in Iraq unfinished a decade ago.

What looks like vacillating enthusiasm, even if it's not, has given the advantage to the most determined advocates of doing nothing about Saddam, foremost among them the loudmouths of the left who never approve of anything America does and the distinguished editors of the New York Times.

The Times has taken a full measure of guff for its Page One campaigning against the war, using its reporters to wage the sort of propaganda usually seen on editorial pages. Howell Raines, the executive editor, has taken most of the hits, being held responsible, as the chief editor must be, for sins committed in his newspaper's name.

Chief among them was the use a fortnight ago of op-ed commentaries in the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post as the kindling to start the fire on Page One. In the first, Brent Scowcroft, the national-security adviser to George H.W. Bush in the prosecution of the first war on Iraq, argued that George W. should go slow, and maybe not go at all. This was particularly easy to make a lot of, since it looked like his old boss might be trying to whisper something in the son's ear with a borrowed tongue. The elder Mr. Bush has been scrupulous in staying out of the son's way. We only have one president at a time; no one knows this better than the old man. The perception that No. 41 nevertheless wants certain things called to No. 43's attention was further enhanced by remarks by James Baker, the father's secretary of state and the lawyer who presided over Republican interests in the aftermath of the Florida recounts in '00. Mr. Baker, a strict constructionist of the law then and now, argues that George W. must get another commitment from Congress before he does anything further about Saddam Hussein. The president's lawyers say no, he already has all the authority he needs.

But it was the New York Times' use of an essay by Henry Kissinger in The Post that dropped jaws in newsrooms everywhere. The Times, casting about for something, anything, to use against the case for war, reported again on Page One that Mr. Kissinger had said precisely the opposite of what he actually had said. It was nothing short of disinformation. Mr. Kissinger made a reasoned argument for a pre-emptive strike, with the caveat, carefully made, that the United States must think hard about following through once it has demolished Saddam's war machine (which it is likely to do with dispatch).

Mr. Raines, a Southern liberal (the worst kind) who has spent his career trying to prove that he's not a redneck jingo man like all those rednecks he left behind in Alabama, is determined to stop the war if he has to do it all by himself. He has so annexed the front page of his newspaper to the editorial page that even an honest mistake looks contrived and fraudulent. The Times last week quoted Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, as telling an interviewer for the BBC that toppling Saddam Hussein "is not an object of British foreign policy." This was stop-the-press stuff, because it would be read as an indication that Tony Blair had abandoned George W. and the Americans.

But Jack Straw had said nothing of the kind. The remark was something the interviewer, just another media wussy, had said to a pol. No news there. "A bloody mess," said the British Embassy, whose spokesmen spent the weekend trying to straighten out the confusion.

Such is the "frenzy" over whether America should go to war to destroy a man with designs on destroying America. The frenzy is one the president himself made, with the off-again, on-again arguments from the White House. There's nothing "silly" or even mysterious about the way to cool the frenzy. It's called leadership.

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