These are not the halcyon days of George W. Bush.
With his approval rating below 40 percent, his reputation as a decisive leader ravaged by Katrina, his conservative base shattered by Harriet, and his closest aide facing indictment, the president is said to be shouting at and blaming subordinates for the lost opportunities of his second term.
None of the above problems is insoluble. For if or when the Miers nomination dies, and Bush sends up a Michael Luttig or Edith Jones, his base would rally and he could lead his coalition in a decisive battle over whose judicial philosophy should guide the Supreme Court.
The real crisis the president faces, and we all face, is Iraq. If the war ends in failure, no success will redeem the Bush presidency.
By the time this column appears, the remains of the 2,000th U.S. soldier to die in a war that has lasted longer than World War I for the United States will be on the way home. And it is difficult to visualize the end of this war or the victory so often predicted and promised.
Even critics now praise the successes of Bush’s father: the liberation of Kuwait, unification of Germany, the deft handling of the collapse of the Soviet Empire and breakup of the Soviet Union. But the son’s foreign policy is on the precipice of failure. Only a third of the nation still supports him as a war leader, while more than half believe Iraq was a mistake and we should begin to bring the troops home now.
A preliminary list of winners and losers from our invasion seems to show that it is our enemies who have prospered and our friends who have suffered. As of today, the principal winner of the Iraq war is Iran.
While our invasion of Afghanistan smashed a Taliban regime hostile to Iran, our invasion of Iraq was even more beneficial. It brought down a Ba’athist regime that had inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties on Iran in their eight-year war in the 1980s. In power in Baghdad today, in place of Saddam, is a Shia regime that looks to Iran as patron and ally.
In 2001, Iranians had demonstrated in support of the United States after 9/11, and in successive elections, a moderate presidential candidate had carried 70 percent of the vote. The Tehran mullahs were on the ropes.
But with Bush declaring Iran an “axis-of-evil” nation, which was to be denied, even if it meant preventive war, any nuclear program or weapon of mass destruction, Iranians responded as nationalists. A hardliner won the presidency, and Tehran’s defiance is now a popular policy. Meanwhile, the U.S. threat of military strikes to effect the nuclear castration of Iran becomes less and less credible the longer the war next door goes on.
With Iraq smashed and perhaps splintering after we depart, Tehran is set to fill the power vacuum. History may yet record that the U.S. Army did all the heavy lifting in the Persian Gulf to make Iran its preeminent power.
A second winner of the Iraq war is al-Qaeda. While the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan dethroned the Taliban enablers of bin Laden, killed countless followers, and destroyed his base camp, our invasion of Iraq compensated him for his losses. The Iraq war radicalized the Islamic world, recruited thousands of jihadists, and converted Saddam’s country inhospitable terrain for Islamists into the world’s training ground for Islamic terrorists.
Among the other beneficiaries of America’s Iraq war are the Shia fundamentalists who stand to inherit their first Arab country. Among the losers are the Turks, who must contend with Kurdish nationalism inflamed by Kurdish successes next door, and Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait.
If the Iraqi insurgency evolves, as it appears to be doing, into a civil-religious war, the Sunni and Shia populations of those three autocracies cannot but be affected and those nations perhaps drawn in. And peoples’ wars have almost always proven unfortunate for kings and emirs.
How does the balance sheet look for the United States?
Saddam and his neo-Stalinist regime are history, the Iraqi people, especially the Shia and Kurds, are free, a threat to U.S. interests and the region is removed forever.
On the liability side, there is the high cost in dead and wounded, in alienated allies, in a radicalized Middle East, and in the creation in the Sunni Triangle of a base camp and training ground for jihadists that did not exist before the U.S. Army crossed the Kuwait border, 30 months ago.
As George Bush’s place in history is riding on the outcome of this war, he is right to be angry and alarmed. But this war is not the doing of any subordinate.