- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

Good wars are fashionable this week, and we won’t hear the end of the latest burst of applause for our greatest generation, all of it deserved, at least through Sunday. That’s when the leaders of 14 nations gather at Normandy to say goodbye to World War II.

Even Gerhard Schroeder intends to crash the party, in the worst example of bad taste since Ronald Reagan was persuaded against his better judgment to visit SS graves at Bitburg two decades ago. Maureen Dowd, who dreams of blowing up a British post office, preferably with a Bush standing in line buying stamps, yearns in the New York Times for the “moral clarity” of a good war. Alec Baldwin, who promised to leave America four years ago if George W. was elected president, is shilling war stories this week on the History Channel. (There’s still hope: He is believed to have a little pied-a-terre in the 17th arrondissement under contract in Paris pending results in November.)

The president himself spent the week making speeches and giving interviews trying to dress up the war in Iraq as the latest good war, comparing it to World War II and casting himself as FDR.

The president, like several prominent members of his administration, is obsessed with the notion that Iraq and the Islamic nations of the Middle East are just like Germany and Japan, eager to become tolerant, peaceful, democratic republics and join the 18th or 19th centuries, if not necessarily the 21st. Many people, the president told interviewers for Paris Match magazine, believed that Germany and Japan would never become democratic nations.

“Fortunately,” he said, “there were optimists — individuals who believed in principles and value systems based on the application of law, democracy and justice. They were right. They triumphed. Fortunately, their opinion prevailed. And now Germany and Japan are among our best friends in this war.”

This is a curious reading of reality, and surely the president is merely displaying his burden of excessively proper manners. If the Schroeder government, which has allied itself with France and Russia to put imaginative obstacles in the way of the coalition of the willing, is actually “among our best friends in this war,” then someone (George Tenet?) has been feeding the president highly imaginative mis- if not dis- information.

In his commencement address at the Air Force Academy, the president recounted all that D-Day has come to represent in the nation’s reverential memory, even citing Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s dramatic charge to his troops as their boats pushed away from the English shore. But his good manners compelled the president to so garble Ike’s message as to strip it of its power. Ike called the liberation of Europe “the great crusade” (he would later call his memoirs “Crusade in Europe”); figuring this would hurt the feelings of ignorant Muslims ever on the scout for offense, George W. struck the word “crusade.”

The president told Paris Match that the gunmen killing Americans in Iraq are neither terrorists nor particularly bad guys. “They are not all terrorists,” he said. “The suicide bombers are, but other fighters aren’t. They can’t stand being occupied.”

If we’re at war against Islamist terrorists — events have persuaded most of us that we are — the president undermines the war effort by pretending that the thugs in Fallujah, Najaf and Baghdad are merely misunderstood good ol’ boys. Ike did not tell his troops on the eve of D-Day that “a lot of those Germans who will be trying to kill you are not really Nazis, so smile when they shoot at you.” FDR did not tell Congress, on December 8, 1941, that the nation shouldn’t take Pearl Harbor personally, that the Japanese just couldn’t stand seeing the Pacific occupied by Americans. Neither did he remind the nation, over and over, that Shinto was “a religion of peace.” Many German and Japanese soldiers would become fast friends of America later, but friendship had to wait until the war was won.

The president is entitled to put the best face he can on events, and every president tells diplomatic lies. Some have to be whoppers. George W. told Paris Match, presumably with a straight face, that he and Jacques Chirac are pals, that he was never really angry with the French. “France is a long-time ally. Friends can disagree. Jacques told it to me clearly. He didn’t believe the use of force was necessary. We debated it as friends.”

Maybe that’s even true, but he shouldn’t try telling it to the Marines.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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