- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

I knew Jay Rockefeller was a U.S. senator from West Virginia, but before now I had no idea what a seer the man is.

Not only can Mr. Rockefeller peer into the future and confidently tell us how it turns out, he can turn the clock back to the past, specifically March 2003, and, like a projectionist putting in an alternate reel, show us the better future that might have been. If only the United States and its allies had not invaded Iraq, Swami Rockefeller explains, the world would be a better place today — even if Saddam Hussein were still in power.

How does he figure that? Well, Saddam “wasn’t going to attack us. He would’ve been isolated there. He would have been in control of that country, but we wouldn’t have depleted our resources.” It’s all right there, in the senator’s crystal ball.

But two can play at this purely speculative game. Turn the clock back to 1936 and ask what would have happened if the West, instead of appeasing Adolf Hitler when he started his aggression by remilitarizing the Rhineland, had stood up to him.

Suppose an Allied expeditionary force had crossed the Rhine early on and deposed Der Fuehrer in a blitzkrieg of its own — but then found itself bogged down in a guerrilla war, having to fend off suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, and attacks on the freely elected government that had replaced the Brownshirts. Who knows what would have happened?

But surely this is certain: Some isolationist senator with Mr. Rockefeller’s gift for second-guessing would have explained how much safer the world would have been if only we had let Hitler stay in power, obnoxious little irritant that he might be. After all, “He wasn’t going to attack us. He would’ve been isolated there. He would have been in control of that country but we wouldn’t have depleted our resources.”

But as it happens, the Free World did appease Herr Hitler. Again and again, until it was almost too late. And we all know the result: the most disastrous war in the history of the world.

Back in the present, the president of the United States continues to speak out for his strategy in this war on terror, or whatever History in its wisdom/hindsight, will call it.

Was the president’s address from the Oval Office this week political? He was accorded the airtime on the major networks because it wasn’t supposed to be political — and in the narrow, partisan sense, it may not have been.

But it was certainly a political speech in the broader sense, laying out the president’s grand strategy in this contentious conflict. In particular, his address to the nation emphasized his faith in freedom as the best defense against a fanatical enemy, one as devoted to violence and tyranny over others as the fascist movements of the last century.

Reasonable men may agree or disagree with the president’s policy, but fair-minded Americans will recognize his sincerity. For there is no reason other than honest belief for this president to pursue a course that has imperiled his popularity and divided the country.

George W. Bush could have laid back, temporized just as his immediate predecessors did, and allowed Saddam to remain in power in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He could have treated terrorism, even on a September 11, 2001, scale, as a matter of law enforcement rather than war. Instead, he has moved boldly against a great and growing threat.

Mr. Bush’s presidency could turn out as tragically as Lyndon Johnson’s or Woodrow Wilson’s, other presidential idealists. Much depends on the patience and perseverance of the American people. Or he may yet prove as farsighted as Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan in understanding the threat to the Free World in their time.

But this president continues to plead his case, and his refusal to swerve from its basic justification, even in difficult times and as the leader of an increasingly divided nation, testifies to his honest convictions. One need not share those convictions to recognize that the man has some, and will fight for them.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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