Herewith, two columns for your weekend reading. The first, by Daniel Pipes, gives President Bush appropriately high marks for the war on terrorism. The second, by Matt Miller, gives him appropriately bad marks (in my view) for domestic policy.

First the good news:

SURPRISE! IT REALLY IS A WORLD WAR ON TERROR
by Daniel Pipes
New York Post
December 31, 2001

The prospect of war between India and Pakistan shows how profoundly things have changed since Sept. 11. “From this day forward,” President Bush announced just days after the attack, “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” Washington, he signaled, would henceforth see international politics through the prism of its war on terrorism.

Many observers, including this one, doubted his us-and-them approach. This unrealistic bifurcation, I wrote in the Oct. 15 Post, “will not work in the real world of messy and competing interests.”

Well, I was wrong – the president meant what he said. Since Sept. 11, the war on terror has overhauled U.S. foreign policy. Nearly all American relations with the outside world are developed with this issue in mind. This seriousness of purpose – so unlike the Clinton years – has vast implications. Here are two.

First, many states have adopted the war on terror to their own circumstances. Some of them (Zimbabwe, Syria, Nepal) do so opportunistically, with no al Qaeda problem in sight. Others that really do have a problem with militant Islam – Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Israel, India, China, the Philippines – restated their case in anti-terrorism terms to win American approval. We are witnessing a fledgling but unprecedented alliance of the world’s great powers against the forces of militant Islam.

The cases of Israel and India stand out. After Sept. 11, suicide terrorism by militant Islam temporarily stopped, resuming only in December with parallel assaults on these two countries.

Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched four terrorist attacks on Dec. 1-2, killing 26 Israelis and wounding many more. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded by announcing, “We will treat Palestinian terrorism exactly as you [Americans] treat bin Laden terrorism.” Emulating Bush’s policy toward the Taliban, Sharon held the Palestinian Authority “directly responsible” for the violence and sent Israeli troops into its areas to extirpate terrorism.

India. If not for a mishap by the terrorists, the Dec. 13 assault by Jaish-e-Muhammad on India’s Parliament building would have assassinated much of the country’s political leadership and probably caused a national crisis. Also emulating U.S. policy, New Delhi held Pakistan responsible and demanded a crackdown on Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, militant Islamic groups supported by Pakistan’s intelligence service, threatening dire consequences if its wishes were disregarded. The two sides spoke of war, recalled diplomats, cut transportation links, put troops on “very high alert,” evacuated villages, laid mines, deployed missiles, and exchanged artillery fire.

The Bush administration correctly accepted these as legitimate variants of its war against terrorism. It newly sympathized with the Russian and Chinese efforts. It sent military advisors and nearly $100 million in aid to the Philippines. It abandoned the earlier calls for mutual restraint and instead shifted in favor of Israel and India, noting how these governments have “a legitimate right to self-defense.”

Second, the Bush policy has governments around the world paying much more attention to U.S. wishes. The petty criticisms of last August about U.S. “unilateralism” is history; foreign states now jump when Washington speaks.

In mid December, for example, Defense Department sources noted the al Qaeda infrastructures in Yemen and Somalia and fingered them as potential targets. Those states immediately stood up and saluted. On Dec. 18, the Yemeni authorities launched a military campaign in the east against al Qaeda and days later arrested foreign adventurers. On Dec. 24, long-feuding Somali factions hastily put together a transitional government and vowed to eradicate al Qaeda in their country.

Stepping back from the details, we see here something very major indeed, perhaps even (to use the term made notorious by the first President Bush) a new world order. It is characterized by an assertive United States using its power to protect itself, stand by its friends, and intimidate its enemies.

Yes, this involves dangers, as shown by the growing worry of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. But the only way to defeat militant Islam is through a willingness to fight it; and the sooner it is confronted, the less bloody the fight will be.

That the tragedy of Sept. 11 really has turned into an international wake up call is primarily a testimony to the leadership of George W. Bush. We are only beginning to see how focused, consistent, and determined he is.

☞ If we play our cards very, very carefully, the world really might unite against terrorism and yet move toward democracy, not away from it, in the process.

Can anyone imagine these same actions, or anything vaguely resembling them, being taken on September 10? Sadly, without the image of the Towers imprinted in every brain on the planet, we surely could not have gone into Afghanistan, let alone wherever we go next, without phenomenal criticism and resistance. It may well be that the 4000 who lost their lives September 11 were the horrific price the world paid to avert something much worse.

But as good a job as the administration is doing abroad, it’s been just awful on most issues at home. Some of the missteps have been inadvertent and excusable. (Surely, for example, the administration didn’t intend for its Treasury Secretary – in most respects an impressive fellow – to prove so inadequate for the job.) But much of it was completely deliberate, designed to shift the balance of wealth and power significantly further in favor of the wealthy and powerful.

And in this regard, as Matt Miller suggests, September 11 works very much in the administration’s favor:

ODDS FAVOR BUSH IN FRAMING ’02 DEBATE
By Matthew Miller
For release 1/2/2002

Sixty-eight percent of Americans believe the cost of the war on terror will ‘shortchange other needed programs,’ and most people think the anti-terror effort is worth the expense.

Taken together, these findings from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll have the Bush White House cheering. And they show how steep the climb will be for those who hoped the new year might offer a chance to make progress on domestic needs if the terror situation stabilizes.

Washington is poised for a classic shouting match over who lost the budget surplus and how to cope with its disappearance. What the new poll suggests is that the public is predisposed to accept the false Republican argument that the war on terror has eaten the surplus – not the large Bush tax cut tilted toward the wealthy.

When you combine this public predisposition with the presidency’s built-in advantages in shaping the terms of debate, you reach a depressing but unavoidable conclusion: The left will need to achieve unheard-of levels of political acuity and ‘message discipline’ for there to be any hope of fresh action for the uninsured, the working poor or disadvantaged kids.

The shame is that the conservative argument on the long-term surplus is a hoax. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (a poverty-oriented research group in Washington whose numbers are respected across the political spectrum), only about 20 percent of the decline in the projected 10-year surplus comes from increased defense spending and homeland security measures, all of which the Center prudently assumes will be continued indefinitely.

About half the decline in the 10-year surplus comes from the tax cut (the final 30 percent is swallowed by the recession and assorted technical re-estimates). This proportion surges over time as the tax relief phases in. Seventy percent of the surplus previously forecast for 2010, for example, has been devoured by the tax cut.

To be fair to Republicans, the recession and new security costs will account for about three-fourths of the surplus’ decline this year. The GOP strategy is therefore to act as if the short-term explanation for the lost surplus is the same as the long-term explanation. This is dishonest, of course, but that’s politics.

How can Democrats make the facts prevail in the coming debate? It won’t be easy.

For one thing, the Bush tax cut is a fait accompli – so Democrats who make these points will be charged with wanting ‘to raise taxes in a recession,’ an obvious no-no. This charge is untrue – Democrats would simply stop future scheduled tax cuts for wealthier Americans from taking effect – but an untrue charge is not the same thing as an ineffective charge.

At the same time, Democrats have handed Bush an underappreciated coup by joining with him to pass a largely hollow education reform. When trumpeted by Bush during his coming ‘State of the Union’ address and via every other megaphone at his disposal, this ‘accomplishment’ will certify in the public mind the president’s centrist, ‘compassionate’ credentials. (It also gives Bush several years – at least through his re-election campaign – in which to deflect any criticism on schools by saying, ‘We have to give these bipartisan reforms a chance to work.’)

All this comes even as Bush’s new budget will drive federal spending toward its lowest levels as a percentage of the economy in 40 years. No matter: The education bill ‘halo’ will make it next to impossible to paint Bush, accurately, as a president epically stingy with those left behind. A Rose Garden picture with Ted Kennedy will trump a thousand liberal editorials.

In short, it’s hard to exaggerate the domestic political box Bush has put Democrats in even as he’s risen to the occasion of wartime leadership. To make any headway toward progressive goals – or even to stop severe backsliding with regard to the federal cash available for such purposes – the left will need to mount a successful campaign to teach the public that the cost of the tax cut dwarfs the costs of terror, and that their smiling president has plans to sharply shrink government unrelated to our security.

Anything is possible, I suppose. But a betting man would say conservatives are in the catbird seat. Did someone say ‘happy new year’?

© 2002 MATTHEW MILLER

☞ To which I would add: Don’t count us out. With hard work, progressive Democrats will continue to win elections this coming November just as we did this past November. (Democrats won both governors’ races, Virginia and New Jersey, and 39 of 42 targeted mayoral races, including Houston, where our friends in the other party pulled out all the stops. Our big loss, New York, was to Mike Bloomberg, a Democrat in all but name – he maxed out to Bill Bradley, Al Gore, Chuck Schumer, Barbara Mikulski, John Corzine, Chris Dodd, Bob Torricelli, Tom Harkin and Jerry Nadler – who switched party labels to get on the ballot.)

The question, I guess: would it be too much to ask to have an administration that was, again, rather good both abroad and at home?

 

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