The Breakfast Table

Powell as Bad Cop

Gentlemen, good morning,

A bit late to our breakfast roundtable, sorry, but I had to go hose down some anti-war protesters.

I was up past my bedtime ­(now anytime past 9:30) like our fun-loving president,­ watching Joe Biden on the Charlie Rose show, taped Sunday night in Davos, and I must say, Biden was most extraordinarily thoughtful. He said, by the way, that the French will come in with us in the end, but the Germans will not, under any circumstance. (What was it Churchill said? The Germans are either at your throat or at your feet.) En tout cas, Biden said that he has never seen such anti-Americanism since the good old days of Vietnam and that he reluctantly concludes this is mainly due to the strident public tone that Bush has adopted on Iraq. Which brings me back to Chris C.’s last-graph comment about Bush not really being a natural heir, the excellent E.J. Dionne and Bill Keller to the contrary, to Ronald Reagan. 

I often thought that George H.W. Bush (for whom I wrote speeches from ‘81-’83) was in a way the real Ronald Reagan: war hero, Ur-dad. It’s true that RR gave the Russkies unshirted hell (“Tear down that wall!”; “evil empire”), but it was never snarly. There was a certain majestic tone to it, the articulation of an older man and the trained actor. Every time I have clicked on the television in recent weeks, there our commander in chief has been, sounding rather truculent (“Saddam MUST disarm!”) or even petulant. Reagan was Teflon; Bush is Iron Skillet, and the flat side of the skillet, whanging down on the top of every European tete and kopf within reach. Add to that Rummy’s “France and Germany? They are sooo Old Europe” line and I now “get” the problem our “good friends and allies” are having.  I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to epater les Francais et les Allemands—what’s the point of being a hyper-hegemony if you can”t drive the Elysee Palace up the nearest murit’s just that it now seems a little more clear why we are le objet of all this cholere. Tant pis. At any rate, to look across the line of scrimmage, if you’ve succeeded, as Saddam and France/Germany have, in getting steam to issue from Colin Powell’s ears, then surely YOU’VE done something wrong. And there is the small detail that Hans Blix, chief weapons inspector, has declared that Iraq is violating Resolution 1441. Mr. Fleischer is saying, as Walter has wittily pointed out, that President Bush will barely even mention Iraq tonight. Mr. Powell will apparently be addressing the Iraq situation in a day or two. The times are truly out of joint when Mr. Powell takes on the Bad Cop role. At any rate, I can hardly wait to hear tonight from our war president all about his plans for increased access to health care for our senior citizens.