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Bush: Searching for yesteryear

By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK, Chief White House Correspondent   |   Jan. 30, 2002 at 5:46 PM
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- As he has often done since Sept. 11, President George W. Bush went hunting for World War II in his State of the Union address, looking for that indefinable thing that he thinks gave the nation the spirit to lead a great world crusade against fascism and Japanese tyranny.

The America he is looking for is the America of the 1940s, the America he studied at Yale in the 1960s, perhaps without much depth, the America that his father told him about and that was the grounding experience of so many members of his cabinet.

"America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere," he said Wednesday, reaching unabashedly for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Four Freedoms address, 62 years ago this month.

Roosevelt, too, was trying to galvanize a reluctant nation and the Republicans in Congress to help Britain stem the tide of the German and Japanese expansion across the world. He set out, as Bush tried to do Wednesday, a universally accepted value that Americans should try to defend.

"We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms," Roosevelt told Congress on January 6, 1941, ticking off freedoms of worship, speech and expression, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

"Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them," Ropsevelt pledged.

"America," Bush said Tuesday, "will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world -- including the Islamic world -- because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment.

"We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."

So early in his war, he is doing what Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt did in theirs. He is trying to get Americans to champion a cause beyond revenge and retaliation.

"Make the world safe for democracy" was the cry in 1917. Is it "peace and justice" in 2002?

To have a war and great crusade, you need adversaries, ones you can see. Osama bin Laden has disappeared, gone from the public consciousness and the White House rhetoric, gone, incidentally, from the State of the Union address. Al Qaida still remains, but a limp footnote.

The president tells us there are "tens of thousands" of al Qaida-trained terrorists around the world, ready to strike with maps of U.S. cities and drawings of power plants and water works. The notion is vivid and also reminiscent of 1940s comic books where Hop Harrigan always found plans for the Golden Gate Bridge.

But the president and his advisers know these "tens of thousands" are faceless enemies, and even establishing their existence will be difficult -- much less finding them and routing them out. If they don't strike again, presumably the war would disappear.

So the president Tuesday night brought three tried and true adversaries to center stage: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. They were chosen, the White House said, because they are the farthest along in developing weapons of mass destruction.

But they are convenient in other ways, too. The U.S. has fought unresolved wars with two of those countries, Iraq and North Korea, and has been humiliated by the third, Iran. They are already villains in the U.S. mind, like the "axis powers" of World War II, the Germans and the Japanese.

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," Bush said. Should we go to war with all three, will they be the "axis of evil" powers?

Unlike Germany and Japan in the 1940s, incidentally, North Korea, Iraq and Iran immediately cried foul, wondering in public statements just how they got to be in the axis of evil. Iran must be particularly mystified, since only a few weeks ago the administration told us that it had been quietly assisting in the destruction of the Taliban. Did we miss something?

The fallacy of the World War II analogy is almost the same one his father encountered in using it to form a coalition in the Persian Gulf. There may never again be so clear an enemy of civilization as the Third Reich and the military regime that dominated Japan.

The followers of Bush's "coalitions" are often anxious about U.S. leadership. Military tribunals and detention camps have not set well. China must get a sense of déjà vu, as a good many Vietnam veterans have, watching Green Beret "advisers" going into one more Asian jungle near them to rout out a guerilla movement.

The Russian military has not missed the fact that suddenly, without a shot being fired, U.S. military contingents are in every major country in Central Asia, with landing rights and flyover privileges.

Bush is finding that the enemy here is vague and elusive. Clearly the terrorists that destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are enemies, plain and simple. But are the freedom movements in the Caucuses evil or simply enemies of Russian domination? Are Muslim tribesmen in the Philippines really al Qaida terrorists or one of the oldest separatist movements in the Pacific willing to take help from anyone?

President Bush needs a better ending, something like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, something to fight for that's bigger than all of us.

As he has often done since Sept. 11, President George W. Bush went hunting for World War II in his State of the Union address, looking for that indefinable thing that he thinks gave the nation the spirit to lead a great world crusade against fascism and Japanese tyranny.

The America he is looking for is the America of the 1940s, the America he studied at Yale in the 1960s, perhaps without much depth, the America that his father told him about and that was the grounding experience of so many members of his cabinet.

"America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere," he said Wednesday, reaching unabashedly for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Four Freedoms address, 62 years ago this month.

Roosevelt, too, was trying to galvanize a reluctant nation and the Republicans in Congress to help Britain stem the tide of the German and Japanese expansion across the world. He set out, as Bush tried to do Wednesday, a universally accepted value that Americans should try to defend.

"We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms," Roosevelt told Congress on January 6, 1941, ticking off freedoms of worship, speech and expression, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

"Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them," Ropsevelt pledged.

"America," Bush said Tuesday, "will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world -- including the Islamic world -- because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment.

"We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."

So early in his war, he is doing what Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt did in theirs. He is trying to get Americans to champion a cause beyond revenge and retaliation.

"Make the world safe for democracy" was the cry in 1917; "peace and justice" in 2002?

To have a war and great crusade, you need adversaries, ones you can see. Osama bin Laden has disappeared, gone from the public consciousness and the White House rhetoric, gone, incidentally, from the State of the Union address. Al Qaida still remains, but a limp footnote.

The president tells us there are "tens of thousands" of al Qaida-trained terrorists around the world, ready to strike with maps of U.S. cities and drawings of power plants and water works. The notion is vivid and also reminiscent of 1940s comic books where Hop Harrigan always found plans for the Golden Gate Bridge.

But the president and his advisers know these "tens of thousands" are faceless enemies, and even establishing their existence will be difficult -- much less finding them and routing them out. If they don't strike again, presumably the war would disappear.

So the president Tuesday night brought three tried and true adversaries to center stage: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. They were chosen, the White House said, because they are the farthest along in developing weapons of mass destruction.

But they are convenient in other ways, too. The U.S. has fought unresolved wars with two of those countries, Iraq and North Korea, and has been humiliated by the third, Iran. They are already villains in the U.S. mind, like the "axis powers" of World War II, the Germans and the Japanese.

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," Bush said. Should we go to war with all three, will they be the "axis of evil" powers?

Unlike Germany and Japan in the 1940s, incidentally, North Korea, Iraq and Iran immediately cried foul, wondering in public statements just how they got to be in the axis of evil. Iran must be particularly mystified, since only a few weeks ago the administration told us that it had been quietly assisting in the destruction of the Taliban. Did we miss something?

The fallacy of the World War II analogy is almost the same one his father encountered in using it to form a coalition in the Persian Gulf. There may never again be so clear an enemy of civilization as the Third Reich and the military regime that dominated Japan.

The followers of Bush's "coalitions" are often anxious about U.S. leadership. Military tribunals and detention camps have not set well. China must get a sense of déjà vu, as a good many Vietnam veterans have, watching Green Beret "advisers" going into one more Asian jungle near them to rout out a guerilla movement.

The Russian military has not missed the fact that suddenly, without a shot being fired, U.S. military contingents are in every major country in Central Asia, with landing rights and flyover privileges.

Bush is finding that the enemy here is vague and elusive. Clearly the terrorists that destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are enemies, plain and simple. But are the freedom movements in the Caucuses evil or simply enemies of Russian domination? Are Muslim tribesmen in the Philippines really al Qaida terrorists or one of the oldest separatist movements in the Pacific willing to take help from anyone?

President Bush needs a better ending, something like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, something to fight for that's bigger than all of us.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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