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The War Without and the War Within
9/26/01

Bill Kristol wants a war – if not across the Middle East, at least on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Yesterday, the publisher of the Weekly Standard penned a piece for the Washington Post entitled, “Bush vs. Powell.”  He writes, “Since his speech to Congress last Thursday, virtually every major political figure has gone out of his way to support the President.  Except for his secretary of state.”  Problem is, Mr. Kristol has misdrawn the battle line, for the struggle isn’t between the State Department and the White House. It’s between the advocates of war and more war.  Powell and the President are one side;  Kristol and his neo-conservative cronies are on the other.  Standard coalitions have broken down, and the usual Left/Right labels no longer apply.

Last Friday, Mr. Kristol and a who’s who of 41 neo-con notables published an open letter to President Bush.  They “fully support [his] call for ‘a broad and sustained campaign’…” – emphasis on “broad.”  Not only is bin Laden in their sights, but also Iraq, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria should they “refuse to comply,” as well as the Palestinian Authority. The Wall Street Journal stretches the dragnet over “Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria,” not to mention “parts of Egypt.”  National Review, between breathless entreaties to “End Iraq,” also advocates "Ending a few recalcitrant terrorist-friendly regimes in the Middle East,” while Kristol’s own Weekly Standard targets “any group or government inclined to support or sustain [terrorists] in the future.”

Mr. Bush has other plans.  Libya, Syria, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority have all denounced the attack, and the President has offered a “from this day forward, any nation that continues…” amnesty clause.  Thus far, the shadow states seem willing to play that get-out-of-jail-free card.  The choice between Powell’s coalition and Kristol’s conflagration is none too difficult.

Unlike the neo-cons bucking to make September 11 a catalyst to club Israel’s enemies, the primary aim of the Bush Administration is a tightly drawn bin Laden search and destroy mission.  From there, we will take the battle to the tentacles of his terror network – fighting an organization rather than nations.  President Bush’s focus is the perpetrators, their support system, and similar terrorist groups, not war on Islam writ large.  To that end, he is forging alliances that in their fragility preclude the neo-cons’ goal and the terrorists’ ultimate ambition:  a full-blown war across the Middle East that we have neither motive nor manpower to fight.

Two days after the terrorists struck, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz advised “ending states who sponsor terrorism.”  Powell responded, "I think ending terrorism is where I would like to leave it, and let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself.”  According to the Washington Post, “Privately, Powell had told Wolfowitz that his plan would ‘wreck the coalition’ of countries Bush has been assembling.”

The implication is clear:  Powell and the President do not disagree and will not be divided by a headline.  Though Kristol dares Bush to “lead and demand that Powell follow,” the pair are already moving together  -- away from his counsel and in the direction of reasonable response. 

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