Bush and Cheney exhibit `sensitive' side, too

August 19, 2004|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON -- A "more sensitive" war on terror? That's a joke, except when Team Bush wants to have one.

Such is the not-so-subtle message in Vice President Dick Cheney's ridicule of Sen. John Kerry's call for a "more sensitive" war on terror.

"America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive," Mr. Cheney told Bush supporters in Dayton, Ohio last week.

"A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans. ... The men who beheaded [U.S. citizens] Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity."

Mr. Cheney's implied message to a crowd heavy with men and women who, unlike Mr. Cheney, are military veterans, was that war vet Kerry sounds like a wuss compared to the fearless men and women of Team Bush. Was Mr. Cheney right about Mr. Kerry? Or, astonishing as it may be to comprehend, was he quoting Mr. Kerry out of context? I report, you decide:

Mr. Cheney was referring to Mr. Kerry's recent statement at the UNITY convention for journalists of color in Washington. In context, Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, said: "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

Got that? Mr. Kerry called for a "more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive" war on terror, as well as "more sensitive," the adjective upon which Mr. Cheney chose to whale away.

"Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively," Mr. Cheney also said, triggering applause. "They need to be destroyed." Sage words from a man who said on national television that triumphant American troops would be greeted with flowers in the streets of Iraq.

Our troops are still waiting for those flowers.

"As our opponents see it," Mr. Cheney said, "the problem isn't the thugs and murderers that we face, but it is somehow our attitude. We, the American people, know better."

If so, one wonders if one of those American people is Mr. Cheney's superior, President Bush, who just happened to speak at the same UNITY convention a day after Mr. Kerry. In answer to a question there, Mr. Bush said, "Now, in terms of, you know, the balance between running down intelligence and bringing people to justice, obviously we need to be very sensitive on that," emphasizing the S-word.

Is the vice president calling his boss a wuss? Or does Mr. Cheney not pay much attention to what his boss actually says about foreign policy?

Or, for that matter, does Mr. Cheney pay much attention to what Mr. Cheney says about foreign policy? I raise that question because Mr. Cheney spoke on conservative Hugh Hewitt's syndicated radio show about how, in the siege of the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, the mosque "is a sensitive area and we are very much aware of its sensitivity."

That's reassuring. As Mr. Kerry was trying to say, a little sensitivity goes a long way. In its hasty run-up to war with Iraq, U.S. missteps show a need for this nation to be more "sensitive," not to its enemies but to its allies instead of throwing American might, money, men and women into battle alone or nearly alone. (Let's raise a glass, shall we, to Iceland, Honduras, the Marshall Islands and the rest of our mighty coalition of the willing.)

Against all threats, real or perceived, America needs the sort of leadership that brings other nations along with us as effective partners. That's how the elder President George Bush built a truly strong coalition to chase Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

As candidate Bush said during a 2000 presidential debate with Vice President Al Gore, "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us; if we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we've got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom."

I can hardly improve on that. America does not need to seek a "permission slip," as Mr. Bush more recently put it, from anyone, but we should seek the cooperation of everyone. Whether Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry wins the November contest, it is not enough simply to show our neighbors, enemies and allies alike, how tough we are. Our neighbors have received that message, but we should not always expect them to love us for it.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun.

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