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Crossing The Rubicon
The die is cast--or why it ought to be.


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Victor Davis Hanson

For good or evil, George W. Bush will have to cross the Rubicon on judicial nominations, politicized indictments, Iraq, the greater Middle East, and the constant frenzy of the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic party–and now march on his various adversaries as never before. He can choose either to be nicked and slowly bled to death in his second term, or to bare his fangs and like some cornered carnivore start slashing back.

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Before Harriet Miers, conservatives pined for a Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, with a Justice Roberts and someone like a Janice Rogers Brown rounding out a battle-hardened and formidable new conservative triad. They relished the idea of a Scalia frying Joe Biden in a televised cross-examination or another articulate black female nominee once again embarrassing a shrill Barbara Boxer–all as relish to brilliantly crafted opinions scaling back the reach of activist judges. That was not quite to be.

But now, with the Mierss withdrawal, the president might as well go for broke to reclaim his base and redefine his second term as one of principle rather than triangulating politics. So he should call in top Republican senators and the point people of his base–never more needed than now–and get them to agree on the most brilliant, accomplished, and conservative jurist possible. He should then ram the nominee through, in a display to the American people of the principles at stake.

It is also time to step up lecturing both the American people and the Iraqis on exactly what we are doing in the Sunni Triangle. We have been sleepwalking through the greatest revolutionary movement in the history of the Middle East, as the U.S. military is quietly empowering the once-despised Kurds and Shiites–and along with them women and the other formerly dispossessed of Iraq. In short, the U.S. Marine Corps has done more for global freedom and social justice in two years than has every U.N. peacekeeping mission since the inception of that now-corrupt organization.

This is high-stakes–and idealistic–stuff. And the more we talk in such terms, the more the president can put the onus of cynical realism on the peace movement and the corrupt forces in the Middle East, who alike wish us to fail. Forget acrimony over weapons of mass destruction, platitudes about abstract democracy, and arguments over U.S. security strategies. Instead bluntly explain to the world how at this time and at this moment the U. S. is trying to bring equality and freedom to the unfree, in a manner rare in the history of civilization.

Yes, the Kurds and the Shiites need to compromise. The Sunnis must disavow terrorism. But above all, the American people need to be reminded there was no oil, no hegemony, no money, no Israel, and no profit involved in this effort, but something far greater and more lasting. And so it no accident that the Iraqis are the only people in the Arab world voting in free elections and dying as they fight in the war against terror.

Was Iraq naïve? Perhaps. Idealistic? Of course. But cynical or conniving?–not at all. That is the domain of the Arab kleptocracies, the corrupt Europeans, and increasingly the radical American Left–who all have much to lose if the United States can stop the petrol-theft of the Hussein legacy, expose its corrupt ganglia, establish a democracy, and prove that the United States found real security from terrorism only by bringing constitutional government to the Middle East.

The key to Iraq is enfeebling those around it who are weakening the country–namely Syria and Iran. The U.S. should be calling for democratic reform in both countries–constantly, without interruption, and in the same idealistic fashion as we appeal to the Iraqis. The president must focus world attention on just how awful those two regimes are. After all, an Iranian president threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map at precisely the time his government lies and connives to obtain nuclear weapons–which alone could bring that avowed sick Khomeineseque dream to fruition, given Iran’s conventional military impotence. Again, the government of Iran is not just talking about warring with the Sharon government or attacking the Israeli nation, but rather liquidating the Jewish people–as Hitlerian a promise of genocide as we have seen since the Holocaust. And he boasts like a leader who fully expects to have nuclear weapons in the near future.

Syria’s government is little more than Murder, Inc. Its assassination of Mr. Hariri slowed the entire Lebanese reform movement. It’s been a fine and noble thing that George Bush began to confront Syria, but he should go even further to call on the nations of the world to consider the young Assad the new Milosevic who, like the Iranian president, is an international outlaw deserving of sanctions, embargos, and global ostracism.

We should remind the world that our 2,000th fatality did not end our commitment to freedom and justice, but reminded us just how much we owe our dead so that their ultimate sacrifice was not in vain. We must make sure this sacrifice will lead to the defeat of the terrorists and the establishment of freedom in the greater Middle East. Once we went into Iraq, in the long run there was no living with either Assad or a nuclear Iranian theocracy–and both autocracies grasped that fact far better than we did, as evidenced by the constant stream of terrorists flooding in to kill Americans and undermine Iraqi democracy. The more we jawbone them, pressure them, and isolate them now, the less likely it is that we will have to use force later. Again, no “smoke ‘em out” or “bring ‘em on” braggadocio, but just something to the effect that we are taking great risks at great costs to join with the Iraqis to give freedom and equality at last a chance in the Middle East.

George Bush also should begin addressing his most venomous critics at home, by condemning their current extremism. He must explain to the nation how a radical, vicious Left has more or less gotten a free pass in its rhetoric of hate, and has now passed the limits of accepted debate.

In the last six months we have heard from various demagogues–though they are recognized as such due to their prominence in the media– that we were waging nuclear war in Iraq (Cindy Sheehan), that there was cannibalism in New Orleans (Randall Robinson), that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be shot (the novelist Jane Smiley) or executed (Al Franken). Alfred Knopf has published a book about the theoretical assassination of the president, and the Nazi slur is now commonplace in Democratic circles, where a Senator Dick Durbin or Ted Kennedy slanders American soldiers as akin to either Saddam’s torturers or even Nazis and Stalinists. The case needs to be made that we are seeing a new paranoid style–but from the Left, whose opponents are not to be out-argued, but rather deemed worthy of death or demonization as Nazis. The recent eclipse of George Galloway–due in no large part to Christopher Hitchens’ lonely and underappreciated pursuit of his perfidy–reminds us how hard these reprobates finally will fall.

All of these issues are interrelated. If the president can win the hearts and minds of the American people on one theme, the others will fall into play. The more the president talks of principle and values, the more he can do so with zeal, and yes, real passion and occasional anger.

The odd thing is that so far the conventional advice to the president–keep the discussion on Iraq only to U.S. national security, not the upheaval of the existing corrupt order; reach out to the Democratic Senate; curb your idealistic rhetoric with Syria or Iran; ignore shrill enemies; nominate someone that the opposition will not seriously object to–has only emboldened critics here and abroad. It is time to go back on the offensive, both for the idealistic legacy of the Bush presidency and the immediate future of his ideas in the upcoming 2006 elections. The American people, both pro and con, are more than ready for a great debate to settle these issues one way or another.

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.



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