Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Smells like Vietnam spirit!

They joke that if you can remember the '60s, you weren't really there. But I can remember how Lyndon Johnson ruined his promising presidency by getting bogged down in southeast Asia. Is the same thing about to happen again?
Bush's New Problem: Iraq Could Eclipse Big Domestic Agenda


WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - The deadly attack on a United States military base in northern Iraq on Tuesday scrambled the Bush administration's hopes of showing progress toward stability there, while making clear that the war is creating a nasty array of problems for President Bush as he gears up for an ambitious second term.

Despite weathering criticism of his Iraq policy during the presidential campaign, Mr. Bush is heading into his next four years in the White House facing a public that appears increasingly worried about the course of events in Iraq and wondering where the exit is.

And as he prepares to take the oath of office a second time and to focus more of his energy on a far-reaching domestic agenda, he is at risk of finding his presidency so consumed by Iraq for at least the next year that he could have trouble pressing ahead with big initiatives like the overhauling of Social Security. At the same time, Mr. Bush faces fundamental questions about his strategy for bringing stability to Iraq. How can the United States - with the help of Iraqi security forces whose performance has been uneven at best - assure the safety of Iraqis who go to the polls on Jan. 30 when it cannot keep its own troops safe on their own base?

The situation has left the White House sending two somewhat contradictory messages. One, alluded to by Mr. Bush at his news conference on Monday and stated explicitly by other administration officials on Tuesday, is that no one should expect either the violence to abate after the first round of elections on Jan. 30 or the United States to begin bringing troops home next year in substantial numbers.

The other message is that progress is being made in Iraq, that the insurgency will eventually be quelled and that there is no reason to change course.

For a year, the administration has suggested that Iraq would move closer to stability as it reached one milestone after another: the capture of Saddam Hussein; the handover of sovereignty and the appointment of an interim government; the deployment of Iraqi security forces; the military campaign to expel the insurgents from strongholds like Falluja; and the first round of elections next month.

Yet most of those milestones have passed with little discernible improvement in the security situation. Now some analysts are concerned that the elections could make the political situation in Iraq even more unstable by producing an outcome in which the Sunni minority feels so marginalized by the Shiite majority that it fuels not just further violence against Americans and Iraqis working with them but also more intense sectarian strife or even civil war.

The elections on Jan. 30 will be sandwiched between two critically important moments for Mr. Bush: his second inaugural on Jan. 20 and the first State of the Union address of his second term, probably in the first week of February.

As a result, the degree to which the elections come off smoothly or not, and whether they move Iraq toward stability or even greater chaos, could well put an early stamp on Mr. Bush's new term. And the elections and whatever violence surrounds them could compete with or overshadow his calls for action on changing Social Security, rewriting the tax code, revising the immigration laws and stiffening educational standards, among other domestic plans the White House intends to begin rolling out in January.

Supporters of Mr. Bush dismissed the idea that his Iraq policy was proving wrongheaded or that the difficulties in Iraq would torpedo the rest of the president's agenda by sapping his political support.

But polls have shown for months that majorities or near-majorities of Americans think that invading Iraq was a mistake or not worth the cost in lives, money and prestige abroad.

"The big risk for the president is that if this continues to escalate, it could overtake much of what he wants to do," said Warren Rudman, the former Republican senator from New Hampshire, referring to the insurgency. "If this is in some way a precursor of an escalation into a more sophisticated attack by the guerilla insurgents, it would make members of Congress very uneasy and the American people very uneasy."
Considering that I think Bush's domestic agenda will end up being almost as disastrous for the United States as his foreign agenda has been for Iraq, should I be happy that he is getting so tangled in the Mesopotamian quagmire that he won't be able to ruin this country any more than he already has? Should I sit back and say, I told you so about both? Or should I try to save the situation, knowing full well that if somehow, Iraq turns out to be less than a nightmare, Bush will take credit for the actions of others? Actions that he probably opposed until they started to show faint signs of working?

We can't pray for a morass in Iraq - it's not fair to the Iraqis, and it's not fair to our soldiers - but how can we pray for a 100% success there, either, knowing that Bush and his Koolaid-drinking enablers will screech how it shows he was right all along about everything and therefore he must immediately be given God-like powers to do whatever the hell he wants domestically as well? Do we want Bush to spectacularly self-destruct? It would vindicate us - but it would be catastrophic for America and for the world. (And Bush's political catamites would end up blaming Bill Clinton for everything that went wrong, anyway.)

Democrats now know how Cassandra must have felt. We know things are going horribly wrong, but every time we say so, we feel like we're pumped at how bad things have gotten. I don't really want George W. Bush to be a miserably failed president - okay, maybe I do, just a little - but he is a miserably failed president. How can I not say so? And how can I not feel just the tiniest bit vindicated that things are turning out even worse than I feared?

At least Lyndon Johnson had a progressive domestic policy wrecked by disastrous foreign folly. With Bush, it's only a question of which he can fuck up worse. What a choice.
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