- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

OK, so let’s reviewthe cold election-year facts.

First, the United States economy is booming, airborne, well-piloted. The Bush-appointed Federal Reserve and a confident business community have managed growth for maximum performance, including abrisk 5.6 percent growth rate in the first quarter of this year, a measured correction in the U.S. housing market on fire in 2005, and a jump in consumer spending of 3.1 percent in the third quarter, together with a 6.4 percent leap in business investment.

To this good news, add a 14 percent rise of investment in new American production capacity, offices and commercial construction in the third quarter of 2006, and a blistering run-up of 20 percent during the second quarter. Fuel prices are now falling, the stock market has burst through the magic record 12,000 mark, and leading economists with no political ax to grind predict acceleration at the end of year, with a first quartergrowth rate in 2007 of 2.5 percent.

Incredibly, all this growth is being moderated by a Federal Reserve that has raised interest rates 17 times since 2004, but keptinflation at2.3 percentin the third quarter of 2006. In short, the balancing act between tight money and swift growth — never easy — is being expertly coordinated, even with the added weight of wartime spending.

Ok, so let’s talk war. The international front is complicated, but there is grinding progress. The bright light of Iraq casualties makes it hard to look into that domain directly. But Iraq is nearing its endgame, one way or the other. Iraqis will hold fast to their fledgling nation, federation or confederation, or they will lose that chance. The decision and responsibility, beyond a certain point, is theirs. Our presence is stabilizing, essential for now,the focus of their hope and worthy. But it is also necessarilytemporary. Responsibility is being transferred. A Democratic majority in Congress will not make the transfersmoother. A sudden pull-out would jeopardize everything we have done to bring hope to a dark corner of humanity.

Look beyond Iraq. Congressional and administration leadership have brought a dangerous anddefiant North Korean regimeto the unlikely conclusion that they mustreturn to six-party talks onnuclear weapons. That is real progress. The Bush White House is sharing credit with China, a new phenomenon. Bridges, long in the building, are being soberly crossed.

Other threats must not beunderestimated. The Republican Congress has kept a steady eye — and determined voice — on human rights in China, the pace of democratic reform in Russia,measures showing reduced drug production in Colombia, and an array of international issues that take time to yield results.

Republicanshavealso been critical where criticism is warranted, in Afghanistan’s drug problem, accountability in defense spending,support tolaw enforcement, global environmental leadership,adherence toconstitutional standards, and immigration. Despite a slim majority, the Republican Congress haspressed the White House toaction. They have had the leverage to do so, as members of the president’s party.

Last, a glance at the alternative. Democratic standard-bearer John Kerry threw agut punch last week at Americans in uniform, insinuating that those in Iraq were not up to snuff. He and those who have not dissociated themselves from this statement should be held to account. What did he do? He dissembled. Mr. Kerry said he was talking about the president, had made a joke, was misinterpreted and owed no one an apology since he was proud of his remark. A muted apology a few days later was too little, too late.

The simple truth is, any of the above are unacceptable responses. Moreover, silence from other Democrats is damning. If they were stunnedby Mr. Kerry’s personal views and reduced to private ruminations, or whether they agreed with him does not matter. Missing was the swift courage to say: “Wait, that is wrong-headed, and I am not of that view. I think for myself and have praise for our well-trained, highly disciplined,noble young Americansin Iraq today.” Where were those voices?

In short,America’ssustainable growthcomes from smart monetary policy, the indirect product of this Republican administration and Congress. Thewar in Iraq has reached its apex, but reflexive withdrawal would endanger the future more than any other course. The international environment is dangerous, but progress is being made, albeit slowly. Republicans have the ability, heart and leverage to hold the Bush administration accountable on everything from immigration and moral issues to taxes.

Put differently, if your job,house value, kids’ education, tax rate, citizenship, andsense of balance in tough times matter to you, preservingRepublican leadership in Congress is likely your best choice. When you wake up Tuesday morning, don’t forget to let someone know.

Robert Charles was assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, and counsel and staff director to the National Security Subcommittee and Speakers Task Force on Counter-Narcotics, 1995-1999. He is currently head of The Charles Group, a policy consulting firm with offices in Washington and Maryland.

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