Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bush's fabled intuition may be just that
Gene Lyons

Tell me again about President Bush's fabled intuition, his born leader's gift for choosing the right course of action by natural instinct. Oh, and, yes, the peerless political genius of Karl Rove. Because if you didn't know any better, it would appear that the administration's grandest schemes have gone badly awry, confronting the White House with a political crisis seemingly beyond its control. For the longest time, Bush was the GOP and the GOP was Bush. Although I've always seen the cult of personality surrounding Bush as a rationalization of his manifest shortcomings of character and intellect, there was no denying its power. Now that illusion appears to be fading. Both the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq and the incomprehensible political blunder of trying to hand over management of U. S. ports to a company headquartered in the United Arab Emirates have brought about the unthinkable: open dissent from prominent Republicans and discontent among the Republican base. The scary part is that Bush's second term has an almost unimaginable three years to run longer than the entire presidency of John F. Kennedy.

Because of the way things are going, we may be about to find the authoritarian rock-bottom; that is, how many Americans will profess unthinking loyalty to any president calling himself "Christian" and "conservative," and retaining the support of right-wing radio hosts.

Roughly one-third is my guess. According the latest CBS News poll, Bush's approval rate stands at 34 percent, down eight points from January.

Only three few months ago, Republican pundits excoriated Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean for expressing doubts that the Iraq war could be "won" in any traditional sense, and calling for the immediate withdrawal of National Guard troops and the phased pullout of all U. S. forces within two years. "Howard the Coward, " one called him. They derided a highly decorated Marine veteran, Rep. Jack Martha, D-Pa., after he referred to continued U. S. occupation of Iraq as " a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion" and called for a tactical retreat. White House spokesman Scott McClellan accused Murtha of wanting "to surrender to the terrorists."

Now the destruction of the Askariyah Shrine in Samarra, a site almost as holy to Shia Muslims as St. Peter's Basilica is to Roman Catholics, seems to have set the nation on a seemingly irreversible path to open civil war - something Dean and other opponents of invading Iraq, with its seething sectarian and tribal rivalries, warned against years ago. Atrocity follows sickening atrocity, which U. S. and British troops appear powerless to prevent.

So what will right-wing character assassins now say about William F. Buckley? Writing in the National Review, the magazine he founded, one of contemporary conservatism's elder statesmen has seen enough.

"One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed," Buckley concludes. "Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols."

Will GOP apparatchiks question Buckley's patriotism ? Call him a traitor?

"The administration has, now, to cope with failure," he adds. "Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality."

Translation: Bush must eat crow for the country's sake. Alas, reality has never been his strong suit. He prefers aircraft carrier photo ops. Assuming that anybody in the White House has enough courage to brave one of Bush's famous temper tantrums, however, here's how this column, aware of his penchant for seeing himself as his generation's Winston Churchill, has long suggested putting it to him: Mr. President, Iraq isn't Normandy, it's Dunkirk, a tactical retreat from an over-exposed and unsustainable position. In the "war on terror" it's not D-Day 1944, it's more like 1940. On the other hand, how can anybody reason with a politician who committed the spectacular folly of the Dubai Ports World deal ? Persons eager to save Bush from the consequences of his heedless bullying characterize opposition to handing over control of U. S. harbors to a stateowned company run by a hereditary Arab monarchy as "quasi-racist scaremongering," " global ethnic profiling" and worse. What rubbish. If there's a racial component to the dispute, Bush's fear-mongering created it. Furthermore, there are perfectly legitimate political objections to handing over operating control of U. S. ports to a state-run company anywhere in the world, much less a Middle Eastern monarchy with a demonstrable history of allowing itself to be manipulated by extremists. If he's lucky, Bush's fellow Republicans will find some pretext to save him from the trap he's created.

Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Courtesy of Moose & Squirrel.