- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) — A conservative critic of the Bush administration's war policy said much of the hostility and resentment in the diplomatic sphere could have been avoided by a more honest approach.

Top administration officials "had made up their minds a long time ago for a war with Iraq," said Thomas Fleming, editor of Chronicles Magazine and president of the Illinois-based Rockford Institute. "Going to the U.N. when your mind is already made up is a mistake," he said in a phone interview with United Press International.

"It looks manipulative. So the Russians, the French, the Chinese are sucked into a process, and when it turns out that they've got the votes and we don't, we then say: 'Well, we don't accept the conclusion.'

"We shouldn't have entered into it if we weren't going to accept the conclusion. And I don't think there was any way — for good or evil, no matter what your stand — that we were not going to war."

Fleming said that although he joined in the general praise of Secretary of State Colin Powell for persuading President Bush to go to the United Nations, he didn't realize at the time that war was a foregone conclusion.

"Under those circumstances, it would have been better just to declare to the world: 'We believe we are right. We are going ahead. Join us if you will. Otherwise, it's been good to know you," he told UPI.

Fleming also said Congress has been evading its constitutionally mandated responsibility to decide matters of war and peace. He said, well before the November elections, the president should have declared where he stood. During the campaign, congressional candidates would have been forced to explain to their constituents how they would vote on the war.

Congress's evasion, Fleming said, comes "because when the president of the dominant party wants a war, then all the members of his party feel obliged to give it to him, but the members of the opposing party — especially when it's Democrats — are often afraid to appear unpatriotic or disloyal.

"And that's not what they're elected for. … On the big issues, I think elections should be referendums on where people stand."

Fleming said he doesn't like to see a lot of irrational and emotional argument breaking out in America during a period of crisis, and people should not take sides on the basis of political ideology or party. He called Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's recent criticisms of the president "stupid."

"As the congressional leader of a party that had given President Bush the power to go to war, it's a little late to start complaining," he said. "It was pure politics, and very bad.

"When a country is at crisis, we should try to keep the rhetorical level as low as possible."

Fleming termed his own position on the war "rather complex" and "a hard sell."

Pre-emptive wars are morally wrong and violate international law, he said. Therefore, he would have voted against the war resolution if he had been a member of Congress, even though it will be good to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

"I disapprove of mass demonstrations, especially during wartime and especially when this war, if put to a referendum, would be supported by about 70 percent of the people. In a democracy … people in politics have to take their lumps," he said.

Although Fleming advised prudence and restraint to dissenters and critics of Bush's war policy, he also rejected the "support the troops argument," which he termed morally identical to "I was only following orders" defense.

Morally responsible people have a duty both to obey the law and to obey their conscience, he said.

Some people believe the war is immoral and will lead to terrible consequences, including an upsurge of terrorism and the formation of anti-American alliances in Europe and Asia. Such people have the right and duty to state their dissent, but they should do it, so far as they are able, in measured terms, Fleming said.

Once the United States is at war, the best thing is to win it quickly, end the fighting and killing and the risk to American troops, and — "after installing an unreliable puppet regime" — get out quickly to avoid further antagonizing the Islamic world, he said.

Other countries have the right to dissent from U.S. opinion, even if they are wrong, he said, "and the yahoos boycotting French wine and vandalizing stores with French names make me ashamed for my country."

The Rockford Institute describes itself as "the authentic voice of the American heartland." Fleming is author of "The Politics of Human Nature" and "The Conservative Movement."

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