| New York Times
The Floo Floo Bird
By WILLIAM SAFIRE OP-ED COLUMNIST April 5, 2004
— The architect Frank Lloyd Wright warned of the floo floo
peculiar and especial bird who always flew backward . . . because it
didn't give a darn where it was going, but just had to see where it had
That's us. With our eyes fixed on our rearview mirror, we obsessively review catastrophes past when we should be looking through our windshield at dangers ahead.
Today we are engaged in the wrong debate. The brouhaha about
the new Bush administration treated the threat of Al Qaeda as
"important" versus "urgent" is history almost as ancient as whether
F.D.R. did enough to avert Pearl Harbor.
The you-should-have-known inquisition, with this week's target Condoleezza Rice, is surrogate for a more contentious backward glance: Did concern about missile defense and the refusal of Saddam to permit U.N. inspections somehow keep us from preventing 9/11?
Doves opposed to the overthrow of Saddam — who had earlier argued that
attacking Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan would lead to
quagmire — have found a bellicose rationale for their antiwar stance.
It is that these military actions against terror states undermined a
more limited "war" on terrorist cells.
Thus we are rearguing the debate of the year before last: Should we
have responded to the 9/11 outbreak of terror by taking military
action, or should we have continued the manifestly ineffective
responses to the lesser terror attacks of the 1990's?
We can argue about that throughout this year's presidential campaign
and never change a mind. That
debate will be resolved by events: either
we will withdraw prematurely and watch Iraq plunge into civil war and
again become a haven for hatred of the West, or we will help build an
Islamic democracy that will turn the tide against terror conducted by
rogue states using a network of freelance killers.
Today's TV blame game has doves saying, "You undermined the specific
war on Osama," and hawks replying, "You never understood it's all one
war." This look back
generates dramatic confrontations at Congressional
hearings, sells books, hypes cable ratings and wallows in justifying
past positions. But it avoids engagement in the much-needed
about how to conduct this war now and in the future.
On the military level, for example, how do we punish the killers and
desecraters in Falluja? Send in the Marines with overwhelming
shoot resisters? Cordon off the city and hope resentful citizens
on the insurgents? Back off until an Iraqi army and police force
strong enough to pacify the populace? Politicians and pundits
unprepared to take a stand now will have no standing to criticize
On the Iraqi political front, what about our June 30 deadline for Iraqi Sovereignty Day? One school says that this specific date for the end of our occupation encourages free Iraqis to decide soon on a transition to elections, and induces the U.N. to end its delay and NATO to step up to its out-of-theater responsibility. Another school wants to let the deadline slip until insurgents are routed and the hold-your-coat nations are more inclined to participate. Anybody with a third way?
Although few mainstream minds are now saying "cut and run," a
difference of opinion exists within both U.S. political parties about
the level and kind of U.S. troop strength now and in the future.
It's much easier to look back and get worked up over discrediting Richard Clarke or second-guessing Condi Rice than it is to take a stand on issues like these that decision makers stare at today.
Let the floo floo birds look back in anger, scheduling the 9/11
commission's report on the opening day of the Democratic convention,
hoping to persuade voters that Bush's concern with Saddam's threat
diminished our suppression of Osama.
Other birds who dare to look ahead will wonder: Are those fixated on fixing blame avoiding the needed debate about how best to get to the root of terror in the Middle East today?