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Mary McGrory

Silent on the Brink

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, January 12, 2003; Page B07

The barely breathing peace community is clinging to a faraway figure, Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw. He's in London, and he's all they've got. He said last week that the odds on going to war had shifted from 60-40 for war to 60-40 for peace.

Tony Blair's defense minister, Geoff Hoon, promptly labeled the Straw statement "unhelpful." The Guardian ran a story saying that Blair begged Bush to hold off on the bombs -- a report that 10 Downing Street calls "rubbish." There were questions in Parliament and speculation that the Brits are "going wobbly" -- an echo of Margaret Thatcher's famous admonition to George Bush Sr. when another gulf war was brewing.

_____More McGrory_____
'The Saddest Loss' (The Washington Post, Apr 23, 2004)
Blossoms and Bombs (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2003)
Tony Blair in the Doghouse (The Washington Post, Mar 13, 2003)
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In other words, a hot debate is going on in England about the wisdom of going to war. There is none here. A majority in the so-called opposition party, the Democrats, tied its tongue by voting for a resolution that made no mention of U.N. inspectors or resolutions and told the president to use whatever force he deemed necessary.

As for the nuclear tantrum of North Korea, nobody seems to have any ideas. The depiction of the certifiable Kim Jong Il as a reasonable man susceptible to rational argument is bizarre, but sometimes the rhetoric of the desperate administration officials almost suggests he is a Nelson Mandela kind of fella. A measure of their cluelessness is their reaching out for a Clinton-era figure, former Democratic House member Bill Richardson, the newly elected governor of New Mexico, who met last week with North Korean representatives.

The statement by Hans Blix, the chief U.N. arms inspector, that his team had found "no smoking gun" in Iraq exasperated White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. The administration insists that Saddam Hussein possesses forbidden weapons, although it won't tell us how it knows. We could bomb Baghdad just in case. On the other hand, if the wretch fesses up to toxic stashes in the sand, we will bomb Baghdad to punish him.

One theory goes that it is all a gigantic and masterly scam. The bellicosity, the escalated dispatch of troops, will frighten Hussein into giving up and going into exile. In this swirl, it's no wonder that Democrats would rather talk about the economy and Bush's plan to coddle the coupon-clippers. The only antiwar demonstration on Capitol Hill was Rep. Charlie Rangel's proposal to revive the draft. Rangel, a New York Democrat, points out that a democracy should take its armed forces from the general population without regard to ethnicity or economics.

"I hope to raise enough hell so that people will pause before they vote for war," Rangel said, "and stop and think that their sons and daughters could be involved, and is it worth it?"

Rangel got a good reception, he says. At a House caucus on Bush's economic plan, he was peppered with questions about the draft and offers to co-sponsor his bill.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was horrified. Unnecessary and unwise, he fumed. What he meant is that the draft means trouble for those who make war. The draft during Vietnam meant campuses ablaze and seething streets; it meant the occupation of deans' offices and Capitol Hill sit-ins by respectable, middle-aged women who ferociously objected to having their sons and daughters killed in countries they never heard of for reasons they did not understand. Rumsfeld called it "all the churning that took place."

No churning is occurring now. The war was not an issue in the campaign. It may be that no one is sure that the Vietnam protests, which drove two presidents crazy, helped shorten the war.

Rhode Island's two senators, the only antiwar bipartisan duo in the Senate, are at peace with their votes and their constituencies. Jack Reed, a serious student of military affairs, reports thanks and praise. He spent part of the Christmas recess in Seoul, studying the generational change that is reflected in a desire to be closer to the North than to the United States. He is in a strong position: Defiantly Democratic Rhode Island reelected him with 78 percent in November.

Lincoln Chafee, the only Senate Republican to vote "no" on the war, has fluffy blond hair and a happy face that makes him look younger than his 49 years. He got heaps of praise from war critics and flak from Republicans who reproached him for not supporting the commander in chief. "People are anxious and still in shock from 9/11," he says. He is protected by the most lustrous political name in his state: His father, John Chafee, was a hero to liberals. He frequently breaks ranks but escapes the shunning by speaking out at caucuses about his contrary intentions. Republicans don't want him to bolt. So when he tells them that the "moral clarity of the Bush foreign policy is a bit murky," they grin and bear it.

In last Sunday's column I misidentified the site of the North Carolina lunch-counter sit-ins. It should have been Greensboro. Sorry.

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