- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

History repeats itself because people do the same things over and over. The politics of the fall of 2003 seem likely to resemble the politics of the fall of 2002.

You’ll recall that late last summer, Democrats sensed a weakness of President Bush on Iraq. They blasted him day in and day out, and his poll numbers softened. But as the leaves began to turn, Mr. Bush launched a counteroffensive, beginning with his speech to the opening session of the United Nations, culminating in an overwhelming vote in Congress authorizing him to use force against Saddam Hussein.

The Bush administration has indicated it will present yet another resolution on Iraq to the United Nations, and the French have indicated — again — they will block it.

Mr. Bush also will request a large supplemental appropriation — a kind of mini-Marshall Plan — for rebuilding Iraq. Democrats will have to vote on it.

Mr. Bush is not going before the United Nations because he expects meaningful help. The recent history of that august body is — after lengthy deliberation — to do nothing. And no behavior is more predictable than the behavior of the French, who have a veto on the Security Council.

Nor could the U.N. provide meaningful help even if it were willing to do so.

Journalists, in their fatuousness and insularity, tend to focus on France and Germany. But European militaries tend to be small, and of the parade ground variety. Every European country willing to send troops already has — there are some 10,000 soldiers from 28 countries (other than the U.S. and Britain) already in Iraq, a fact that those who accuse the Bush administration of “unilateralism” tend to gloss over.

There are only three countries — Russia, Turkey and India — from which the U.S. could hope to obtain substantial numbers of reasonably competent troops. One of the reasons for Mr. Bush’s approach to the U.N. is to provide them with diplomatic cover. Russia’s foreign minister gave “cautious support” to the proposed U.S. resolution. Given proper inducements, Russia might send troops anyway if France, as expected, blocks it.

But the larger reason for the approach to the U.N., I think, is to remind Americans it is France, not Mr. Bush, who is being unreasonable. In the United States, the French are popular only with Howard Dean Democrats, whose numbers do not equal their shrillness.

Going back to the U.N. is in this sense a win-win proposition for Mr. Bush. In the unlikely event that the resolution the U.S. proposes is adopted by the Security Council, Mr. Bush will have the international imprimatur he has long sought for rebuilding Iraq. In the more likely event of its rejection, Mr. Bush will have shown he is willing to go the extra mile but not to give away the store, a position unlikely to harm him with the American electorate.

Mr. Bush must request large additional sums for peacekeeping in Iraq and for rebuilding its infrastructure, because large additional sums are necessary.

But the vote on the Iraq supplemental will be much more problematical for Democrats than it will be for him.

This summer as last, Democrats have been free to criticize Mr. Bush on Iraq without having to spell out what they would do differently. Last fall’s vote on the resolution authorizing military action forced Democrats to fish or cut bait. The presidential ambitions of Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri have not been advanced by their waffling on their votes for war.

The vote on the Iraq supplemental — likely soon after the Security Council has approved the U.S. resolution on Iraq, or the French have blocked a resolution that had widespread support — will put Democrats on the spot on Iraq policy once again. They’ll have to vote either to approve Bush policy on Iraq, or to cut and run. Neither choice is likely to benefit them politically.

Among the serious Democratic presidential contenders, only Howard Dean won’t have to vote on the Iraq supplemental. He could gain from the dilemma facing his rivals. That is not a prospect that sends chills down Republican spines.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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