Mark Helprin is a superb

Mark Helprin is a superb short story writer, an inventive but hopelessly verbose novelist, and an over-the-top political analyst. Notwithstanding the seeming strength and clarity of his prose, I’m not sure exactly what he is criticizing President Bush for not doing. He says the President “failed to ask for a declaration of war,” and later, “What kind of war can you fight if you cannot even bring yourself to declare it?” But I can’t figure out whom he wants us to declare war against. I think Iraq, or maybe Saudi Arabia, but I’m really not sure. If he seriously thinks that in the days after September 11 there was the slightest chance that Congress would declare war on either of those countries, he is loony. And how an immediate declaration of war against either country would have advanced our position, I can’t see. (It may be that in talking of declaring war, Helprin doesn’t mean Iraq or Saudi Arabia, but rather al Qaeda–a group which, curiously, his article barely mentions. In that event, his point is even less tenable. Declaring war against a terrorist gang may give emotional satisfaction, but would be entirely meaningless–a matter of “word,” not “deed,” exactly the confusion of which he accuses the Administration. And in any event, it is hard to see how President Bush could have made our commitment to destroying al Qaeda more clear, or how he could have pursued that objective, so far, more successfully.) Beyond the matter of declaring war, it appears that Helprin would be happier if we were producing lots of aircraft carriers and bombers, as in World War II. But for the present conflict, it appears to me that we have plenty of aircraft carriers, bombers and other materiel. I see no point in analogizing the kind of mobilization we carried out in World War II to the present conflict, which is entirely different. Further, Helprin’s suggestion that President Bush has “overridden professional military advice stipulating a minimum of 250,000 troops” to attack Iraq is ridiculous. Even casual newspaper readers know that military analyses of the manpower necessary to overthrow Saddam vary widely, and at this point, neither Helprin nor anyone else knows how many men the Administration is prepared to deploy, if necessary. Like so many who criticize President Bush from the right–sorry, Deacon–Helprin seems to assume that Bush fails to understand that the Saudis are the source of much of the evil in the Muslim world. On the contrary, I think that the President and his Administration understand this perfectly well, probably better than the rest of us given their access to intelligence data. But whereas Helprin apparently would like us to deploy aircraft carriers and bombers to simultaneously attack Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian Authority and wipe them all off the map–a prospect that does have a certain allure, admittedly–I think the Administration has a better thought-out plan to address these countries and these issues one at a time. And I really do believe that the ultimate result will be the liberation of all or much of the Arab world. Oh, one more thing–Helprin’s view that President Bush has compromised our ability to attack Iraq by failing to strong-arm the Saudis to access their bases is wrong on several counts. First, as today’s news indicated, the Saudis will allow use of their territory when the time comes. Second, we have numerous alternative bases in the area, including in Qatar, Turkey and Jordan. Aircraft carriers are not the only alternative to Saudi Arabia. So whether examined in large outline or in detail, I don’t think Helprin’s criticisms hold water.

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