- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009


Vacation’s over. Back to the grind. I don’t feel as rested as I’d hoped. Maybe I should have stayed at Camp David and skipped Martha’s Vineyard. Playing golf and tennis, especially when the economy is in such tough shape, looks more like sipping a Courvoisier than having a beer with regular folks. I couldn’t keep my mind on my golf with so many events and thoughts swirling around. And then Ted Kennedy passed on. What a loss! Great to have a majority in Congress, but there aren’t many lions with Ted’s heart roaming those halls today.

Things seemed a lot clearer and easier during the campaign. Everybody could see that Iraq was a war of choice, and a bad choice at that. We had to leave as soon as we responsibly could. Afghanistan was where al Qaeda was and where we really needed to be.

It was obvious that we had to develop alternative sources of energy. Al Gore said so; John McCain, too. The glaciers were disappearing and the polar bears slip-sliding away. Confronting climate change was a categorical imperative.

And reforming health care was a moral imperative, and surely one that reasonable members of both parties would tackle together. None of us knew just how bad the economy was, and double-digit unemployment seemed, well, unthinkable.

What a difference a year makes.

Since we started turning over more responsibility to Iraqi forces, violence in Baghdad and beyond is climbing. And things are going poorly in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is likely to ask for more troops. That’s got my base nervous. They’re thinking that I’m taking them on a trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But how can I declare victory and walk away, leaving Osama bin Laden and his thugs loose to mutilate brave, democracy-loving Muslims and plan more attacks against America?

The pundits are criticizing me for fumbling the health care debate. If I’d tried to shove my own bill down the throats of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I’d have been pilloried for breaking my vow to bring a new brand of politics to Washington. But now first-term Democrats I helped bring into office are running scared. They got elected in Republican-leaning districts, and they are afraid voting with me will be a “death panel” for their congressional careers. Probably won’t be adding many new names to the “Profiles in Courage” roster during this debate.

Soon, I’ve got to attend the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh. All I get is criticism about how we’ve ruined their economies… funny how they didn’t seem to complain on the ride up. They want me to stop protecting America’s farmers with subsidies (while their own subsidies increase). Pretty French of them, I’d say.

I’m ready to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but China and India have said clean air is a luxury they can’t afford. Great. Can’t wait to see how “cap-and-trade” legislation goes down when people figure out their electricity bills are going up and the coal miners march on Washington.

The Europeans are pressing me on the Middle East. They want me to start putting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, if Richard Nixon could go to China, why can’t I persuade Bibi that Hamas and Hezbollah are ready to make love and not war?

Things in Iran are really troubling. The elections look like they were rigged. Iranian moderates are still protesting in the streets and the clerics are crushing all dissent. Iranian scientists are rushing to build nuclear weapons, while the mullahs won’t answer the IAEA’s phone calls. If I agree to deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, won’t that just give him legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and throw those who are risking their lives for fair elections under the bus? If I refuse to negotiate with him, can I persuade the Russians and the Chinese to increase economic sanctions? Will the Israelis view any attempt to negotiate with Iran as a sellout of their security and take military action on their own?

And then, there’s North Korea. Looks like Kim Jong-il has been testing me. Withdrew from the six-party talks, tested a ballistic missile, tested a nuclear weapon, and … got a visit from Big Bill. Sure, we got two hostages back, but at what price? The Dear Leader is still trying to ship weapons to Iran. Was there really any chance that this tiger was going to change his stripes? The Japanese are upset, and with the Liberal Democratic Party thrown out of power, we may have a tougher time with the new government.

And what were the British thinking in releasing the Libyan who masterminded the deaths of hundreds with the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie? Why should a terrorist be given compassionate consideration to die in the warm embrace of his family and countrymen? Was anyone on that plane given any such consideration? I hope Gordon Brown didn’t make a trade deal wrapped in the guise of humanitarianism.

I should have shut down the investigation of interrogation abuses by the CIA. Sure, there some who went too far trying to extract information to protect the American people from further attacks, but most people at Langley are dedicated, patriotic, law-abiding public servants who are going to be hurt by this, and morale will go through the floor. I said I opposed torture but Justice is looking at the possibility of prosecuting those who ordered or conducted those interrogations that went beyond the law. Now Dick Cheney is out there declaring (once again) that I’m jeopardizing national security and causing our allies to question the value of cooperating with us. … Don’t think I’ll take his book with me next summer.

T.S. Eliot (I slipped him in on my reading list) had it wrong. Looks like September is going to be the cruelest month.

William S. Cohen is the chairman of the Cohen Group, an international business consulting firm. He served in the House and Senate from 1973 to 1996 and as secretary of defense from 1997 to 2001.

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