- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. President Bush told thousands of cheering sailors yesterday that the United Nations will "fade into history" if it does not show some "backbone" in the standoff with Iraq.
His statement came on the eve of U.N. Security Council talks on whether to enforce its resolution threatening "serious consequences" against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein if his country does not disarm.
"The world's most important multilateral body faces a decision," Mr. Bush said at the Mayport Naval Station. "The decision is this for the United Nations: When you say something, does it mean anything?
"You got to decide: If you lay down a resolution, does it mean anything?" he added. "The United Nations Security Council can now decide whether or not it has the resolve to enforce its resolutions."
Although Mr. Bush faces opposition from key NATO allies, including Germany and France, he expressed optimism that the Security Council "will rise to its responsibilities" and enforce the resolution.
"See, I believe when it's all said and done, free nations will not allow the United Nations to fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society," said Mr. Bush, clad in a green military jacket. "I'm optimistic that free nations will show backbone and courage in the face of true threats to peace and freedom."
Mr. Bush's speech was interrupted dozens of times by applause from a sea of sailors in sky blue shirts and navy blue baseball caps. He was flanked by a pair of guided missile ships, the cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the frigate USS De Wert.
Both ships flew the Navy Jack, which consists of 13 red and white stripes with a superimposed rattlesnake and the motto "Don't Tread on Me."
The flag, first used by the Continental Navy in 1775, has been flown on most Navy ships since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Also nearby was the USS John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier that Mr. Bush referred to as "Big Jack." He recalled President Kennedy's decision to send another aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, to confront a similar threat to America.
"The first time the USS Enterprise was ever deployed in a crisis was October 1962, when President John F. Kennedy ordered it to quarantine Cuba, which was arming itself with nuclear missiles armed at our nation," he said. "President Kennedy understood that dangers to freedom had to be confronted early and decisively."
The remarks came nearly two years after Mr. Kennedy's brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said it was "indecent" for Republicans to quote his tax-cutting brother in radio ads extolling Mr. Bush's 2001 tax breaks.
Although Mr. Bush pushed for new tax cuts in a round-table meeting with Florida entrepreneurs yesterday before the speech at the military base, he did so without invoking JFK's name. But after arriving at the base, he suggested that he was emulating JFK's foreign policy.
"He said of the Cold War: 'These are extraordinary times. We face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength, as well as our convictions, have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom's cause,'" Mr. Bush told the sailors.
"Today, at the dawn of a new century, America is still the leader in freedom's cause," he added. "And our generation is called to a central role in this nation's history."
Last year, the senator urged Mr. Bush to refrain from attacking Iraq in the same way that his brother had refrained from attacking Cuba during the missile crisis. Mr. Kennedy said a pre-emptive U.S. attack on Iraq would be "Pearl Harbor in reverse" and "impossible to justify."
"Might does not make right," he said. "It is unilateralism run amok."
Although Mr. Bush insists he is not a unilateralist, he tacitly acknowledged yesterday a rift within NATO.
France, Germany and Belgium have expressed opposition to war by blocking the alliance from beginning to provide military equipment to Turkey, a NATO member that fears retaliation from neighboring Iraq. The alliance's charter says an attack against any member is an attack against all.
Mr. Bush made clear that such dissension does not relegate the United States to unilateralism when it comes to military action.
"America will also be acting with friends and allies," he said. "An overwhelming majority of NATO members oppose the threat of Iraq and understand that tough choices may be necessary to keep the peace."
Mayport's ships and sailors were among the first to deploy to Afghanistan in 2001 to rout the Taliban, which had been harboring September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Although no such deployment orders have been issued for Iraq, sailors here expect to be shipped out soon.
"I know we're going to go to war with Iraq; I just want to get it over with," said sailor David Micheletti, 18.
Machinist's mate Ryan Dodge, 19, said that he was "inspired" by his commander in chief's visit.
"I know that I work for him, but it's not every day that you get to see the president in person," the machinist's mate said.
The president, who was joined on an outdoor stage by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, made clear that he appreciated the sailors' willingness to fight in Iraq.
"In this challenging period for our country, great tasks lie ahead for the Navy and for our entire military," he said. "In crucial hours, the success of our cause will depend on the men and women of our military."
Noting that life "can be dangerous," the president said war remained his last option. But he exhorted the sailors to victory in the event that war proved unavoidable.
"America will act victoriously with the world's greatest military," he said.

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