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News ::
From Truth to Deception (english)
26 Feb 2003
From Truth to Deception

William Kristol
The Washington Post
From Truth to Deception William Kristol The Washington Post

Has anyone had a better six weeks than George W. Bush? Just before Labor Day, the American people were uncertain about the need to act soon to remove Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration itself seemed to be in disarray. Senators and House members were objecting to a broad grant of authority to the president to use force. And our allies were even more unhappy than usual.

Then the president called in the congressional leadership, went to the United Nations and made his case. The country now supports him. His administration is at least publicly united behind him. He has won large bipartisan majorities in Congress. And he is likely to prevail in the U.N. Security Council.

What accounts for the president's success? Primarily it's the clarity, toughness and straightforwardness with which he has marshaled his arguments. There have been impressively serious and high-minded speeches, for example to the United Nations on Sept. 12 and in Cincinnati on Monday. There has been the release of information and the presentation of arguments, including the national security strategy in late September. And there have been the informal comments that have had real political punch, especially the not-so-veiled threat on Sept. 13 to Democrats standing for reelection that they could be accused of subordinating American security to the United Nations.

So the president has succeeded in explaining why Hussein must go, why time is not on our side, why deterrence can't be counted on, and why war is necessary. But now the president has to move from building support for a war to fighting a war. (The coming U.N. Security Council machinations are better understood as a prelude to war than as a real effort at persuasion.) The president now becomes a war leader, not merely -- though the "merely" is unfair -- a war mobilizer. He will have to demonstrate the skills described in his summer reading: Eliot Cohen's "Supreme Command" -- the ability to shape grand strategy and execute precise tactics in the fog of war.

This will require a change in the president's manner of speaking. He has benefited, in making the case for war, from an impressive clarity of presentation and lucidity of argument. But now his task is not to educate or persuade us. It is to defeat Saddam Hussein. And that will require the president, at times, to mislead rather than to clarify, to deceive rather than to explain.

The president's audience is no longer the American public, or even our allies. It is Hussein. Deceiving him as to the timing of the war and the manner of attack is crucial to success. We obviously cannot achieve real strategic surprise; Hussein knows an attack is likely. But tactical surprise remains possible and, especially given Hussein's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, very much desirable, if we are to minimize casualties and risks.

So when the president seems to equivocate about whether war is inevitable, when he holds out hope for inspections, when he talks about giving peace one last chance, when he seems to invite coups and rebellions while implying this might prevent an American occupation, supporters of the president's policy shouldn't worry that he is losing focus or retreating from the moral and strategic clarity of the past six weeks.

The president's duty is no longer to make the case for war or to prepare the nation for a necessary war. It is to win it as quickly, as decisively and with as few casualties as possible. The case for war, over the past few weeks, required clarity and truth. Victory in war, over the next few weeks or months, will require using the fog of war -- creating that fog -- to keep Hussein off balance, wishful and confused.

William Kristol is editor of the Weekly Standard.
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