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I love Dave Letterman. He’s my idea of the funniest man in America. I appreciate his intellect, his quirky, irritated ideas about what’s funny, and certainly respect his right to whatever opinions he has about anything.

I confess he irks me with his nightly ridicule and denigration of our president. He’s really got it in for George Bush, and he and the staff select little snippets of speeches, or a stumble, or a door that doesn’t open, or even just a little aside and shoulder-shaking chuckle – anything that makes the president appear foolish – and revel in derisive laughter.

Unfortunately, the president provides way too much fodder for them since he isn’t the gifted communicator Reagan was, or the charmer Bill Clinton is.

And I understand and even sympathize with the unhappiness Dave and so many others in the media and entertainment business feel about George Bush and his administration and their policy decisions. I do think Karl Rove and those around the president could do a much, much better job of explaining to the American people (and at the same time, our allies) how we’re doing and what we’re doing – and why.

But still, I bristled a couple of nights ago when Dave had Bill O’Reilly on as a guest and treated Bill in a way no “guest” should ever be treated, certainly not on a comedy/talk show, by a host who is not seen as a political commentator or even especially qualified to opine on complex geopolitical matters. Dave is supposed to be – and usually is – funny. That’s why he gets the big bucks, and I guess he earns ‘em.

But from the moment Bill sat down, you could tell Dave was uptight and spoiling for confrontation. Not the good natured, spiky and funny sparring with a Dr. Phil – no, Dave obviously wanted to take Bill on, and down.

He asked Bill rough questions, and Bill had the answers and a lot of examples. He rattled off recent incidents across the heartland where Christian civil liberties were being scuttled by liberal jurists, and Dave cut him off. “Do those things really matter? Can’t you just ignore things like that and go on to more important things?”

When Bill tried to answer, Dave cut him off, changing the subject. “Why are you so critical of Cindy Sheehan (the mother of the slain solder in Iraq who is crusading against the war)? Can’t you just leave her alone?”

Again, Bill began to explain he sympathized greatly with the mom, but saw her being used as a pawn by longtime anti-war – any war – interests, and Dave cut in again: “Instead of asking why she’s doing what she’s doing, why don’t you ask why we’re in Iraq in the first place?”

Of course, since it was Dave’s audience, disposed to agree with whatever he says and also reacting to the angry way Dave asked, it applauded wildly. Bill tried to calmly answer, but Dave had had enough. He acidly, with his superb comic attitude and timing, said, “Bill, I’m not a journalist like you, and I may not have access to all the information you do – but my gut tells me about 60 percent of what you say is crap!”

Well, the audience of course erupted in glee at that. And before Bill really had a chance to get a conversation going again, Dave thanked him for coming and went to a commercial. He’d obviously gotten what he wanted – a chance to publicly disdain and embarrass Bill O’Reilly.

Well, Bill is a big boy and can take care of himself. The next night on his own show, he was gracious and simply pointed out that Dave’s business is being funny while Bill’s is reporting news and sharing valid information – to a far larger audience than Dave’s.

But host Dave’s mistreatment of guest Bill still provokes me, especially in view of his audience’s warmth to Dave’s echoing question “Why are we in Iraq anyway?” It’s become an acceptable social choice by now to forget the answer to that question. It’s sad there’s any need, but it seems there can’t be too much reminding.

OK: 9-11. Airliners taken over by terrorists who destroy them and hundreds of innocent passengers. World Trade Center destroyed. Over 3,000 Americans killed. Evidence being reported of many plots to do more of the same.

The question of why to be in Iraq is preceded by the question “What are we doing about this? How can we prevent this from happening again?”

Well, leaders of many important allied nations agreed with our best intelligence that Saddam Hussein was developing WMDs. We know, the world knows, that he has developed and used poison gas and other WMDs against his own people. He hates America and Israel, and says so. He not only commissioned militant Muslims to seek out and kill Americans and Jews anywhere in the world, in the aftermath of Bush Sr.’s retaliation against Iraq for taking over Kuwait, but Saddam also is known to have supplied money (lots of it) and arms and weapons to terrorist groups who could do his bidding.

Additionally – and I’ve been absolutely astonished that the administration hasn’t made this widely known – there are documented specific eyewitness reports about the exchanges of money, weapons and information, as well as the training of terrorist operatives in Iraq, between Saddam’s top lieutenants and those of Osama bin Laden.

I can only suppose that, in today’s contrary and suspicious and hyper-critical atmosphere, government officials have hesitated to speak about things they may not have courtroom-type incontrovertible evidence for.

But any rational, unbiased adult could assume that, if a dictator had the desire, the means and the expressed intention – to say nothing of the track record of actually using WMDs – to develop and deploy them, he could play the “shell game” he did with the U.N. inspectors and then, when allied forces were forging toward Baghdad, he could simply slip all the actual WMDs across the border into Syria. And this is exactly what I believe we’ll learn, in time, actually did happen. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

Why our government spokesmen, and even Sen. McCain, keep repeating “we found no evidence of WMD” or worse, “there were no WMDs,” I can’t understand. There were, at least until we got there, and any playground kid who ever played “hide and seek” can fill in the gaps.

But, to answer Dave’s question, which Bill wasn’t given the chance to do: We’re in Iraq because we’re Americans, Dave! That’s what Americans do – we not only take whatever action we need to take to protect our own citizens, we also come to the aid of the oppressed, the victims, the desolate and devastated.

We rush in when tsunamis and earthquakes strike, we help flood and famine victims, we come to the aid of minorities in Bosnia, Rwanda and little countries like Kuwait when they’re criminally overtaken by a neighboring dictator. When people are hurting and victimized, we care, and we do something about it.

Anti-war activists seem to think that we can wave a peace sign at an armed, masked terrorist and he’ll just nod, “OK, sorry to have bothered you” and go away. When will the liberals among us, the knee-jerk civil libertarians who yell bloody murder at the very thought the government may be quietly wire tapping where and when they feel the need to – for our protection – wake up to the fact that criminals and sworn enemies use our liberties, our democratic structure and strictures against us?

In time of war, citizens in a democracy voluntarily suspend some of their privileges and unite against the enemy, sacrificing, for a while, so that we can protect the structure and hopefully get back to our full freedoms again.

I see a picture of a neighborhood, on a nice cul-de-sac, happy and contented. One day a nest of rattlesnakes is discovered in one neighbor’s backyard. Several neighbors insist on going in together and wiping out the nest, before the snakes inevitably slither into the other yards. In this instance, which is most important? Is it privacy or wiping out the snakes, before every home is afflicted and people unnecessarily die?

Why are we in Iraq, Dave?

Because we’re Americans – and Americans kill snakes before they kill us!

You’re a daddy now, Dave, with a backyard. Think about it.

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