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DEMOCRATS PLAY A DANGEROUS GAME WITH GULF CRISIS

In a rerun of the 1960s, congressional Democrats are trying to sabotage a foreign and military policy of the United States.

When Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz arrives in Washington to meet with President Bush, he will find a U.S. capital divided and irresolute. The bitter divisions can only embolden his boss, dictator Saddam Hussein, to persist in his refusal to get out of Kuwait and to continue his brutal aggression. The divisions thus make war more likely rather than less likely.

One of George Bush's senior aides has advanced the view that the Democrats have decided the issue of the president's stand against Iraqi aggression is the one that will "break Bush's presidency."

A few thoughtful Democrats are properly worried that the Democratic attack on Bush could boomerang. They are deeply concerned about the effect their fellow Democrats' irresponsible conduct may have on the party's long-range future. Rep. Stephen J. Solarz, D-Brooklyn, recently warned a closed-door strategy session that if the party appears to be denying support to the Republican White House and President Bush orders a military attack that results in an Iraqi defeat, the voters "will keep us out of the White House forever."

This column thinks that this could well be the case. To be fair, it should be re-called that the GOP played this same dirty game. Republicans were unwise enough to engage in a type of politics that undermined the national interest. Many Americans saw it as unpatriotic.

In 1919, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, R-Mass., led what President Woodrow Wilson labeled "a small band of willful men." They blocked U.S. entry into the League of Nations after World War I and helped to foster a weak world order without a strong international peacekeeping organization. It paved the way for World War II.

In 1951, Sen. Robert A. Taft, R-Ohio, led GOP criticism of President Harry S. Truman's policy of intervention in the Korean War. Taft's charge that the conflict was "Truman's war" sapped morale me with gulf crisis
and resolve among embattled U.S. forces in Korea and helped to kill Taft's presidential ambitions.

Now, in the 1990s as in the 1960s, it is the Democrats' turn. In a series of hearings this month, Senate Democrats accused the Bush administration of rushing to war without giving economic sanctions sufficient time to work.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes was among the most outspoken critics. He charged that the Bush administration's recent decision to virtually double the number of American troops in the Persian Gulf area "almost takes you irresistibly down the path of going to war."

The Maryland Democrat and like-minded lawmakers have encouraged anti-war protesters in Washington and other cities. President Bush had been counting on the threat of war, not necessarily war itself, to force Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. But that threat seems hollow if the United States is not united, seems to lack resolve and powerful and influential voices are undercutting the commander in chief's strategy.

Tariq Aziz is no babe in the woods. He's an experienced diplomat who can figure out what's afoot in Washington. He is sure to perceive the irresolution and will tell Saddam Hussein all about it.

In contrast to the Democrats, President Bush has continued to maintain a hard line against Iraqi aggression. He did so last week even after hostages were released by the Iraqi strongman. And why not? Should kidnappers be rewarded when they finally release their terrified victims?

The chief executive is absolutely right to remain firm. He has the backing of almost all the world's major powers and a vast multinational force in the gulf. Unfortunately, one of the few places where he lacks solid backing is right here in Washington, among Democrats in Congress.

Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III speak of a "new world order based on international law and not international outlaws." Unfortunately, that new world order is not yet in existence. It is still evolving following the collapse of communism. It hinges on the outcome in Kuwait.

When contemplating what kind of world order we want, we must remember the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and Hitler's aggressions of the later 1930s. The lesson is clear and simple: Unchecked aggression begets further aggression and, later, even world war.

Democrats in Congress will have much to answer for if they succeed in undermining President Bush in the Persian Gulf and aborting a new and more secure world order.

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