George makes it perfectly clear


GEORGE BUSH'S inability to articulate the rationale for America's presence in the Middle East only piles confusion on confusion. Unconvinced and divided, the electorate is not persuaded by the president's murky, reason-of-the-week explanations. So this is the moment, prior to meetings with the Iraqis, for a clarion, unambiguous message from the president. Something like this:

Fellow citizens:

Let me first acknowledge the ambivMiltonBatesalence that exists in the nation about this Middle East thing. Though the reasons I have advanced for my actions to date have too often been distorted by the media and hostile Democrats, that is no longer important. With the clock ticking toward Jan. 15, I know lTC my message to you must be clear, concise and convincing if I am to have your unqualified support.

Permit me to reminisce a bit. When, shortly after the 1988 Democratic convention, polls showed me 15 points behind my opponent, I did not waffle. Issues critical to the public welfare needed to be addressed, and the record shows I did not hesitate. Once the importance of the Willie Horton furlough and pollution of Boston Harbor had been explained; once the salutary effect of daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and the contributions to the economy of busy flag factories made clear, you -- the voters -- responded.

So it is in the present atmosphere. The big picture, in all its diversity, must be set forth in full. Yes, the secretary of state explained it all with a single four-letter word, jobs. He was simply trying to get down to the average citizen's level. I have instructed him, however, not to discuss American jobs with Saddam Hussein, nor will he take a Bible over there or a cake in the shape of a key.

No, we must learn from the past and not succumb to oversimplification; serious issues demand serious examination. To begin, the extraneous must be identified and discarded. Those who make fun of my "read my lips" pledge, comparing it to Milli Vanilli's lip-synching, are simply seeking partisan advantage. Similarly, the prison sentence handed Michael Milken was in no way connected to human rights violations by the Chinese government. These are, in any case, mere allegations. And, as for that photograph showing your president smiling and waving beside an amused Hafez el Assad, I can assure you that the recent Syrian takeover of Lebanon was not the cause of the hilarity. As in my earlier visits to Hondurus, there was no quid pro quo. Trust me on that.

On now to matters of substance. Margaret Thatcher's willingness to fight to the last American soldier is no longer relevant, but should this have triggered NFL Commissioner Tagliabue's decision to deprive Arizona of the Super Bowl? True, the cost of Operation Desert Shield is skyrocketing, but King Fahd and Prime Minister Kaifu are one in their response to our inquiries. The check, each has assured me, is in the mail. And even more good news on the international coalition front. Chad, John Sununu reports, will dispatch a drum and bugle corps once Congress passes a capital gains tax cut.

So, where are we now on this thing? I will not, repeat not, threaten Iraq's foreign minister with unleashing the Indiana National Guard under command of Vice President Quayle. On the other hand, I will not give him the comfort of thinking that might not be an option. Let Saddam sweat. No, I shall lay out, in sober fashion -- just as I have done with you, my fellow citizens -- these minimal, unambiguous demands. Then Saddam Hussein can carefully ponder each word in assessing his next move.

Let him digest this lucid explanation of our resolve -- totally consistent, when you think deeply about it, with the various reasons advanced by me as this thing has heated up. Then, assuming an iota of rationality survives in the Iraqi leader, he will know clearly where this administration stands.

And yes, the hope remains that he may, just may, withdraw from Kuwait.

Milton Bates writes from Baltimore.

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