From aWar President to a Not-Winning-a-War President
becoming casualty of a war he's not winning
that the United States had a parliamentary system like that of Canada or Britain
in which prime ministers are under constant threat that declining public support
could make it difficult for them to maintain the cohesion of their ruling coalition
and could end up bringing down their governments and leading to new elections.
is quite possible that a prime minister faced with the same kind of dwindling
popularity that US President George W Bush is experiencing these days would be
pressed to call for new parliamentary election.
the United States doesn't have a parliamentary system and that means that despite
a stream of bad news and declining popularity, Mr. Bush will continue to occupy
the White House for the next three years and complete his second term in office,
even if the Republicans would lose their majority in the House of Representatives
and Senate in the next mid-term elections.
the same time, Mr. Bush is in danger of being transformed from a lame-duck president
who like many second-term White House occupants who are constrained in
their ability to promote new legislative and policy initiatives into a
dead duck, that is, into a politically wounded president whose troubles infect
not only his political party but the entire policy-making process in Washington.
such a prospect is even being considered now by political analysts reflects the
dramatic erosion in Mr. Bush's political standing since the last presidential
election. Recall the predictions in the aftermath of the 2004 race: With the Republicans
in control of all branches of governments, there was a lot of talk in Washington
about an historic realignment that was supposedly taking place in American politics
as a result of Mr. Bush's electoral victory.
a Franklin Roosevelt
were confident that the Republicans would become the majority ruling party for
many years to come, and that in the short run, Mr. Bush would have no serious
problems in pressing forward his domestic and foreign policy agendas and force
Congress to adopt his proposals, including his plan to privatize America's huge
government-funded national insurance program, known as Social Security.
fact, one historian even compared Mr. Bush to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
who had succeeded in leading America into a victory in a world war while at the
same time revolutionizing its social and economic system, including by establishing
the existing Social Security program.
to their expectations of the GBII-as-FDR school of thought, Mr. Bush's legacy
after leaving office would be a triumph in the war on terrorism and the transformation
of the Middle East and the weakening of the control of the Federal government
over the US economy.
Mr. Bush, the power of the American government will expand abroad, from Baghdad
to Kabul, while it will continue to retreat at home.
political realignments necessitate more than just electoral victories and reflect
major changes in public attitudes towards political, economic and social issues
that sweep the entire body politic. That kind of change didn't take place under
political makeover of Mr. Bush from the "accidental president"
after all, he had failed to win the support of the majority of voters in 2000
to a War President reflected the successful way in which he and his aides
exploited the wave of post-9/11 American nationalism triggered by the images of
death and destruction in New York and Washington, by creating the perception that
Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were somewhat linked together.
were able to force Congress to provide the White House with sweeping powers to
go to war and to tighten security at home and energized the political base of
the Republican party, including the powerful Christian Right which helped
Mr. Bush win the 2004 presidential race by a small majority.
the same time, Mr. Bush and his allies created deep political divisions in the
country and failed in co-opting traditional Democratic demographic groups, such
as blacks, Hispanics and Jews.
it seems that the chickens are coming home to roost and that the war on terrorism
that had helped to elevate Mr. Bush into a War President is now turning him into
a Not-Winning-War President. The devastating images of 9/11 have become a distant
memory and have been replaced by the daily bloody pictures of the war in Iraq
that keeps dragging on and on, without any indication that the United States and
its allies are close to winning it.
polls conducted by Washington Post-ABC News and the Associated Press-Ipsos
make it clear that the American people are losing their patience with the war
in Iraq and are blaming Mr. Bush for the mess there.
to the Washington Post-ABC polls, for the first time since the war in Iraq
began, more than half of the American public believes that the fight there has
not made the United States safe. Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the number
of casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, while two-thirds say that US military is
bogged down and nearly six in 10 Americans say the war was not worth fighting.
AP-Ipsos poll indicates that just 41 per cent of Americans support Mr. Bush's
handling of the war. Overall, 52 per cent of Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush's
are political killers and President George W Bush faces that prospect," according
to Nicholas Berry, director of the Foreign Policy Forum in Washington, who notes
that the morass in Korea in 1952 shattered President Harry S Truman's hopes for
reelection, and he withdrew, while President Lyndon Johnson suffered the same
fate in 1968 from the Vietnam quagmire. Although President Richard Nixon's downfall
had domestic roots, his fight with Congress when he sought to bolster the sagging
South Vietnamese regime contributed ammunition to his opponents.
of the problems both Presidents Johnson and Nixon faced in their handling of the
Vietnam war was the "credibility gap" between the expectations raised
by Washington that there was a "light at the end of the tunnel" and
the depressing reality on the ground in Southeast Asia. Mr. Berry points to a
similar gulf between the current rhetoric of Mr. Bush and his ideas and the reality
Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney have continued to paint a rosy picture about
"progress" in Iraq. Speaking on April 12 to soldiers at Fort Hood in
Texas, Mr. Bush stressed that the "people of Iraq no longer live in fear
of being executed and left in mass graves," that "freedom is taking
root in Iraq," and that "our success in Iraq will make America safer,
for us and for future generations."
a May 31 Rose Garden news conference, Mr. Bush said: "I am pleased that in
less than a year's time, there's a democratically elected government in Iraq,
there are thousands of Iraq soldiers trained and better equipped to fight for
their own country, that our strategy is very clear. I'm pleased with the progress."
a day earlier, Mr. Cheney on CNN appeared even more optimistic. The insurgency,
he said, was in its "last throes." But in Iraq, the trends point to
another direction. Insurgent attacks, mainly car bombings, killed 80 US soldiers
and more than 700 Iraqis in May and this is escalating daily.
suggest that foreign fighters and suicide bombers are being recruited widely throughout
the Islamic world and that they are infiltrating Iraq through Syria, Iran and
Saudi Arabia. Moreover, US military commanders told a visiting congressional delegation
in late May that US training of an Iraqi military capable of handling security
is at least two years away and a recent report in the Washington Post concluded
with very pessimistic observations about the training of the Iraqi forces.
the same time, the failure on the part of the Shiite-Kurdish coalition to bring
Sunni representatives into the governments continues to raise concerns over the
possibility that the tensions between the three groups would degenerate into a
Bush and Mr. Cheney will probably continue to insist that the United States will
soon "turn the corner" in Iraq, and the possible capture of leading
insurgents and other developments could certainly create a sense of "progress."
But even under the best-case scenario, no credible analysts expect the Americans
will be able to withdraw their troops from Iraq soon.
any case, the problems in Iraq are also weakening Mr. Bush's ability to promote
his domestic and trade agenda, suggesting that if you live (politically) by a
war, the chances are that you'll also die (politically) by the same war if it
doesn't go as well as expected.
Hadar [send him mail] is Washington correspondent
for the Business Times of Singapore
and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted with
permission of the author.