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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

One person who has read the book “Dereliction of Duty” is commentator Dan Goure. He thinks caution is a disease that can infect the politicians who start wars and the generals who conduct them.

DAN GOURE: General George S. Patton was fond of quoting in French an aphorism attributed to Frederick the Great that expressed the general's approach to war. The phrase is audacity, audacity, always audacity.

One of the things I most admired about the Bush administration was its audacity. Within four weeks of September 11, the U.S. initiated Operation Enduring Freedom to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. Believing that the threat from Iraq was real and eminent, Bush decided on a military action despite the lack of consensus in the international community.

Even more audacious, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld refused to accept the military's endless demands for forces and equipment, telling them that they could fight with less. And they could, and they won.

Unfortunately, the days of audacity appear to be over. Everyone in Washington has gotten a bad case of the cautions. Rumsfeld is out, and Gates is in, perhaps with the hope that the new secretary of defense won't ruffle any feathers. Many so-called neocons, who are saying Rumsfeld's praises for six years are suddenly thrice denying him.

Iraq policy has been outsourced to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in a search for consensus. And the group is long on Washington experience but clearly weak in the most contentious areas - military affairs and Islamic cultures. The group's core recommendations were leaked weeks ago. And a egregious example of that notorious Washington hobby known as trial-balloon flying. The answers were tested for public acceptability before formal deliberations were even begun -that's caution not audacity.

Even the Democrats have caught the disease of caution. Now that they control the Congress, the Democrats could end the war in Iraq tomorrow by cutting off funds - but they won't.

Senator Jack Reed, something of a leading critic of the Iraq war, held a press conference the other day at which he called for a high-level envoy to be sent to Iraq. How bold is that? Apparently, the only Democrat not bitten by the cautioned bug is newly elected Senator James Webb. At a White House reception for new members of Congress, he reportedly snubbed the president when Bush asked about the well being of Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq - audacity, audacity, always audacity.

Wars are not won through caution. No terrorist organization has been defeated by reliance on civil procedure and peacetime rules. Bush understood this. That's what made him so audacious. Of course, it's also important to be right. So now, all they need to do is find out what is the French word for caution.

SIEGEL: Commentator Dan Goure is a fellow at the Lexington Institute, a think-tank in Virginia.

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