- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

As a flyer in the Air National Guard, President Bush no doubt heard this lament about fighter pilots. Most are bold and some are old. But rarely are there many fighter pilots who are both bold and old.

Mr. Bush is a bold president. Critics call him brash and even reckless. From his first days in office when he abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia in favor of pushing missile defense to going to war to democratize Iraq and change the face of the Middle East to taking a strong stand on private savings accounts for Social Security, Mr. Bush has not been afraid to roll the dice.

By today’s standards, Mr. Bush is far from bold. However, if the nation is to be safer and more secure, the president must be even bolder. Here are some ideas. First, it is time to phase out the expression “axis of evil” and in so doing gain greater advantage. In other words, do with the two surviving axis members what President Reagan did with the Soviet Union — the original evil empire — and his challenge “to take down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!”

The administration still treats Iran and North Korea as pariah states, grimacing while negotiating through surrogates and multi-lateral exchanges. If Iran, with a proud, intelligent and skilled population of nearly 70 million, chooses to build nuclear weapons, realistically, there is nothing the United States can do short of using force. From its view, Iran has genuine interests in the region that we can ignore or deny, but to what end? And, no matter how the constitution turns out in Iraq, a big winner will certainly be Iran, as southern Iraq becomes more and more a “little Iran” and an Islamic-like Shia republic.

Iran has its reasons to oppose Israel, support Palestine and expand its peaceful nuclear power programs in spite of its energy reserves. The White House categorically disagrees. It is time to break this impasse. In the nuclear area, a transparent inspection regime is critical to ensuring that weapons programs do not emerge. That is the basis for a direct negotiation, and, if successful, the implicit incentive of a moratorium on membership in the axis of evil and further talks on other divisive issues.

Whether Kim Jong-Il is a nut case or a cannier, politer and informed if not enlightened ruler as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was surprised to learn when she visited North Korea five years ago, the test is separating Pyongyang from its nuclear-weapons ambitions. The Six Party Talks on that subject may or may not succeed. However, it is not clear that “loathing” Mr. Kim and labeling him a murderer of millions of his fellow citizens is conducive to success. If it were, then proceed at full speed.

Surely, Mr. Kim is after recognition. One could quip that an invitation to dinner at the White House would probably make him an unwanted friend for life. So, to escape from the axis, a peace treaty finally ending the Korean War and a verifiable guarantee not to pursue nuclear weapons seem a fair bargain even if that means the north retains some nuclear power plants.

Should these steps fail with Iran and North Korea, then the administration would have done everything in its power to seek peaceful resolution. That alone would immensely strengthen its hand with the international community and subsequent actions to contain Iran and North Korea would no doubt be easier to put in place and enforce.

Concerning Iraq, the administration plan is a perfect sound bite. As the Iraqis stand up, we stand down. The constitution will resolve the intractable political issues, bring the Sunnis aboard and, ultimately, peace, stability and prosperity will follow. While that sounds good, it is not something on which to bet the ranch in Crawford or elsewhere.

No administration likes to hear bad news. This administration does not believe that things are going as poorly in Iraq as an abundance of evidence and events suggest. In fighter-pilot lingo, it is time to “check your six,” meaning are we certain that this optimism is justified. If the answer is no, then a bold and innovative review of alternative courses of action can be conducted, without restraints of ideology or wishful thinking, in examining different strategies, tactics and force levels that might extricate us from a situation that many see as not improving despite White House spin.

Most importantly, we must know what can be done to train more Iraqi security forces far more quickly. And bringing Congress aboard would not be a bad idea either.

The crafty fighter pilot can be both bold and old. We will see if Mr. Bush chooses to embellish his standing in the first category.

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