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Of Mice and Men

From the May 24, 2004 issue: Some war supporters, having previously written eloquently of America's generational commitment, now want to throw in the towel.

May 24, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 35 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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"ARE YOU A MAN or a mouse? Squeak up." Forty years ago, I thought this playground taunt witty. It isn't, really, but it seems apt right now. We're certainly hearing a lot of squeaking.

Not from the American people. They--including American women--are behaving like men. They supported the president when he decided we had to go to war to remove Saddam. They have been critical of the president's management of the war where appropriate, especially of the postwar war, so they are wavering on his reelection. But they have repudiated candidates who wanted to cut and run from Iraq, they have ignored demagogic attempts to assign blame for 9/11 and to peddle conspiracy theories about the war, and they haven't been panicked by the occasional (or even frequent) bad news from the front.

The elites are something else. It can't be said that the left has suddenly begun squeaking, because that's its normal state. But the mainstream media have outdone themselves, spending the last two weeks treating the abuse of prisoners by Americans as the biggest story of the war. And some war supporters, having previously written eloquently of America's generational commitment, the magnitude of the cause, and the transformational nature of 9/11, have now decided that a few months of bungling by the Bush administration require throwing in the towel on the central front in the war on terror.

And the Bush administration? It's natural that they are somewhat disheartened. It would be good if this led them to rethink some of their decisions. But above all, they should be redoubling their efforts to win the war. They shouldn't be curling into a fetal position, hoping to survive the blows of political opponents, and praying that John Kerry will be so bad a candidate that their guy will stagger through.

It is true that the mistakes of the past year have had a dispiriting cumulative effect. It is true that it is harder to recover now than it would have been a year ago. But we can't win if we don't apply ourselves anew to trying to win. Reasonable people can differ about what steps must be taken, but here are just a few of the many that could be.

(1) The president announces that, with respect to the prison abuse scandal, he has ordered that legal proceedings move ahead as quickly as possible--and that until they have run their course, he and his cabinet will have no more to say. There will be no more apologies. And, the president could add, Sen. Kennedy's comment that Saddam's torture chambers have "reopened under new management, U.S. management" is beneath contempt.

(2) The president orders Secretary Rumsfeld to send 50,000 more troops to Iraq to win the war. He also orders the secretary of defense to submit a plan to increase the overall size of our armed forces so that it is sufficient for the tasks ahead in the global war on terror.

(3) The president orders combatant commanders to move aggressively to see to it that killers of Americans are killed, that those who aid those killers are held responsible, and that the insurgents are crushed. He might add that any site where Americans are attacked will be regarded as a combat zone, and anyone who chooses to go there to celebrate will be subject to attack.

(4) The president announces that we will accelerate the Iraqi elections, advancing them to this fall, to make clear our commitment to aiding the Iraqis in establishing a real democracy.

(5) The president cancels his own political travel for the next few weeks to engage in an intensive review with his top advisers of our strategy and tactics, to ensure that we are on, or can get onto, a path to decisive victory.

If the president spoke this way and his administration acted in concert--if the president led the country as a fully engaged commander in chief--surely the American people would prefer this to the squeaking of his opponents. If not, then he, and we, are headed to defeat in any event. But at least this path would give victory a chance.

--William Kristol