A letter to the president


DEAR MR. President . . .

I didn't try to telephone because I knew you'd be busy. So here's a public communication where candor may be easier than in private conversation with a president, especially one who has actually succeeded at something.

If you're only reading short adulatory messages, the following paragraph constitutes an executive summary: You, your advisers and thefighting men and women of the United States brought great honor to our country in the Persian Gulf.

After the celebrations, however, don't expect any deference from Democrats on domestic issues (they'll be righter than ever for having been wrong on the gulf), cooperation from those nations you helped save (they said thank you on Thursday) and (( further compliments from journalists (we're not in that business).

On the war, I was with you 87 percent. The other 13 percent was constructive criticism, most of which you fortunately ignored.

Everybody else, as you now know, was with you 103 percent.

Some experts and colleagues would have been with you 105 percent had you been a little tougher and used maybe one very small nuclear weapon.

You have our undying admiration. That and $1 trillion will help you close the deficit.

Here are some test cases of what's to come in Congress.

Say, instead of reducing the Pentagon budget, as you promised, you now want increases. Maybe you'll get 20 new Democratic votes, but not enough to win.

Say you want a big jump in spending on Star Wars. Perhaps Democrats will give you a few extra million, simply to cover their retreat; no more.

On domestic issues like energy, education, child care and the economy, Democrats will have to be even more rambunctious than before.

Your dominance in foreign affairs will make it more important for them to distinguish themselves in areas where you haven't done very well and don't seem to care.

It's fair for you to unleash Republican pit bulls to chew up Democrats for being soft on the gulf. It's your party's only chance to gain control of Congress.

But you should retain your credibility and never gainsay that the Democrats backed you after they lost the vote to stop you from warring on Iraq.

Republicans, when they disagreed with the way the Korean and Vietnam Wars were being fought, abandoned Democratic presidents.

Besides Americans, the deepest debt to you is owed by the Kuwaitis, the Saudis, the Israelis and our allies from Egypt to Europe to Japan. Expect even less generosity than from the Democrats.

The Saudis probably will give you a year's worth of oil at low prices, to show where their hearts are. After that, it will be all wallets, once again. Just ask them to sit down at the peace table with Israel.

Nor will Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir feel he owes you much for dispatching the Patriot missiles to defend Israel against the Scuds.

Instead, he will likely remind you about Palestinians cheering on the Scuds and present his bill for the destruction.

As for the Kuwaitis, don't count on enlightenment.

A senior Kuwaiti cabinet minister acknowledged to "60 Minutes," the CBS news program, that the war "has made us know that what we used to do was wrong."

For example, he offered, "I had four maids, or three maids in my house; you can have two maids. Why should you have four maids in the house? Why doesn't your wife do some of the work?"

4 Yes, indeed, women's liberation comes to Kuwait.

They've paid only a fraction of their pledges, which were far too low to begin with. Yes, it's unbecoming for a world hero to travel hat in hand, but also make sure they don't pay off, as before, in used Sony tape recorders and East German military uniforms.

Cash, preferably in Deutsche marks and yen, will do fine.

Probably the threat to your re-election ended when the cease-fire began last week.

But all heroic leaders of democracies should keep in view the fate of Winston Churchill, whom the British loved for leading them toward victory in World War II but whom they voted out of office before war's end for his inattention to Britain.

Democracies love their war heroes, but they love their country even more.

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