Bush's demands hard to swallow

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - When President Bush declared in his televised speech to the nation the other night that "Iraq is now the central front" of the war on terrorism, he was confirming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

His invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush acknowledged, has mobilized "foreign terrorists, who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations."

Thus does the president now have real grounds to say, as he did without convincing evidence before the invasion, that there are links between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorists who perpetrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that triggered the war on terrorism.

Even without such convincing evidence, Mr. Bush, according to polls, had already sold to a clear majority of Americans the notion that Mr. Hussein had some role in those attacks, justifying the invasion as part of that war.

With the reported infusion of foreign merchants of terror into Iraq, the president now has a stronger basis for going to the United Nations in search of financial and manpower support, and he has done so with an aplomb that simply sweeps aside the wide U.N. rejection of his invasion from the outset.

Rather than any acknowledgment that he seriously erred in going into Iraq with only Britain among the major U.N. members at his side, and admitting he failed to foresee the chaos the invasion would unleash after its military success, Mr. Bush told the United Nations that it now had "the responsibility" to bail him out.

His only implied reference to the U.N. dissenters from the invasion was to scold them, saying, "We cannot let past differences interfere with present duties."

Particularly disingenuous was the president's comparison of the burden of rebuilding Iraq with the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after their devastation in World War II. That war was not started by the United States and Britain, as this latest one was - with a clear obligation of the conquerors to put the pieces back together again.

The immediate response from the leaders of France and Germany indicates that this approach is not going to yield any early agreement to put money and/or manpower into Iraq without some corresponding yielding of real authority to the United Nations - not only in peacekeeping chores but also in political decisions on Iraqi reconstruction.

As far as Congress is concerned, the president is likely in the end to get much of what he has asked for - $87 billion in assorted costs, well beyond the figure of about $60 billion that first was leaked by administration sources. But that, too, will not come without more of the heavy interrogation that has already started on Capitol Hill as to why so much is needed and where that mountain of money will come from.

In the course of this questioning, Mr. Bush will be hard-pressed to defend his continued pursuit of further huge tax cuts for the wealthy amid the skyrocketing federal deficit and nagging joblessness at home.

The other Democratic presidential candidates, seeing the success that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has achieved by bashing Mr. Bush endlessly, are also piling on now. The president's tacit admission that his Iraq policy is in trouble and needs help invites all the more criticism.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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