Can We Trade Tom for Tony?

Last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) blasted the administration of President George W. Bush for expanding the war on terror “without at least a clear direction.” The “continued success” of our military campaign, he argued, “is still somewhat in doubt.” More importantly, Daschle contended, we will have failed in the struggle against terror unless we capture Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and “other key leaders of the al Qaeda network.We’re not safe until we have broken the back of al Qaeda, and we haven’t done that yet.”

How strange that in this time of war and national anxiety, Bush is receiving greater support from a liberal European leader than he is from America’s most powerful senator. Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stressed that the volatile Iraqi threat had to be addressed in a timely fashion. “If chemical, biological or nuclear capability fell into the wrong hands and we did not act,” Blair said, then “we might find out too late the potential for destruction.” He pledged his full support for a possible U.S. effort to unseat Saddam Hussein’s bloody dictatorship.

Given Blair’s backing for action against Iraq, it is truly disturbing that the nation’s top Democrat has resorted to such blatant partisanship. To listen to Daschle’s remarks, one would think that Bush was recklessly bombing random countries, placing a multitude of ground troops in harm’s way without proper intelligence and ignoring the continued threat of al Qaeda. In reality, the Bush team’s conduct of this war remains patient and incredibly well-focused.

Daschle’s remarks were plainly intended to bring down Bush’s approval ratings, which still hover around 79 percent. Moreover, the South Dakota senator is slowly positioning himself for a run at the presidency in 2004. But partisan politicking is no excuse for blatantly denying the facts.

First, Daschle’s assertion that our strategy lacks “direction” simply doesn’t make sense. It is now clear to everyone, including Blair, that our next major target is Iraq—the only questions remaining are how we’ll go about ousting Saddam Hussein and when such action will take place.

Yes, the administration has announced that it will soon dispatch a contingent of roughly 100 U.S. troops to Yemen. And yes, it plans to send 200 Americans to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to train that nation’s military, because reports suggest that terrorist groups have taken refuge near the Georgia-Chechnya border. But such decisions hardly signify a dearth of “clear direction.” These moves are merely precautionary actions; they do not amount to new large-scale operations that would needlessly endanger American troops or compromise our larger goals in the war.

Second, Daschle’s concern that we’re somehow forgetting about al Qaeda is similarly misguided. Right now, 160 U.S. Special Forces troops are training local soldiers in the Basilan island jungle of the Philippines to combat a Muslim rebel group—Abu Sayyaf—that has kidnapped an American missionary couple. Abu Sayyaf is part of the Southeast Asian wing of al Qaeda. By disabling Abu Sayyaf’s training camps and eradicating their power base in the southern Philippines, U.S. troops are preventing the growth of al Qaeda in the Pacific Rim. Our presence is a crucial step towards breaking “the back of al Qaeda,” to use Daschle’s phrase.

And ultimately, as yesterday’s news of additional American casualties grimly reminded us, our coalition forces are still actively searching for pockets of al Qaeda resistance in Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke called Sunday night’s assault “the largest military operation we have engaged in thus far.” Through the continued bravery of our troops, hostile remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban are being gradually obliterated. Even if we don’t get bin Laden and Omar right away, this certainly does not mean that our entire campaign has “failed.”

In contrast to Daschle’s ranting, Blair’s weekend comments evinced a global pragmatism that is sorely needed among liberal Democrats in Congress. “Iraq is in breach of all conditions of weapons inspectors,” he said. “We know they are trying to accumulate weapons of mass destruction. We know Saddam has used them against his own people.” To emphasize the necessity of forceful, well-planned action, Blair compared the current Iraqi situation to that of Afghanistan in the 1990s: “For ten years, Afghanistan was like [Iraq] but we did not do anything. There would not have been the consent to do anything. Even when they killed those people in the Embassy in Dar es Salaam and there was terror around the world, there was not the sense of urgency that we had to deal with it—but it may have been better to have had the foresight to deal with it then.”

When we consider that Blair represents Britain’s left-wing Labour Party, his remarks are truly extraordinary. Recent polls indicate that 86 percent of Labour Members of Parliament are opposed to a war with Iraq. On any number of issues, it is hard to imagine Daschle bucking similar opposition from congressional Democrats here in the States; his knee-jerk partisan impulses wouldn’t allow it.

All of which prompts the question: at least until this war is over, couldn’t we just trade Tom for Tony?

Duncan M. Currie ’04, a Crimson editor, is a history concentrator in Leverett House.