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Bush's Pyrrhic Victory
May 22, 2003
By Michael Shannon

Considering the enormous difficulty I routinely encounter when trying to figure out what the heck is going on in these remarkably interesting times we live in, I rarely am brave enough to attempt to forecast what will happen next. However, I now throw caution to the wind and make the following prophecy: when historians and various other know-it-alls look back at the Bush Presidency, the Top Gun speech on the USS Lincoln will prove to be its high-water mark.

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with my work will recognize that that statement can easily be considered as wishful thinking. For those who aren't familiar with it and just for the record; no speech or photo-op, regardless of how well planned, staged or manufactured, has altered my opinion that George Bush is woefully ill prepared for the office of the Presidency. With that in mind, I readily admit that I make the above prediction with more than a little optimism. I'm optimistic because while Mr Bush is still riding on a wave of popularity that has seen few rivals in modern history, there is an ever-growing body of evidence which suggests that the ride is destined to come to an ignominious end.

The primary reason for Mr Bush's fall from political grace is that he never should have been up there in the first place. By that I do not refer to the electoral/judicial soft shoe that got him where he is. No, his fall is predetermined for a much more a priori factor than that. To repeat the obvious: if this little man did not have the last name of Bush, and all the advantages and connections that came with it, he would be lucky if he was managing a discount furniture store in Midland.

Mr Bush's success/popularity as President has been entirely tied to the events of That Day. Had that band of murdering scum not wielded their wickedness in so brutal and effective a manner, Mr Bush's presidency would have long since achieved lame duck status. The ensuing war against Islamic militancy - a conflict that most assuredly did not start September 11, 2001 - has been the defining theme of Mr Bush's tenure in office. Without it, his many flaws and inadequacies would be too apparent to pretend otherwise; with it, they are far more easily ignored.

But ignoring something doesn't mean that it ceases to exist.

Mr Bush's least arguable moments of triumph are in his response to the attacks. While not perfect, even a staunch critic like myself must admit (although let's face it, any politician worth his salt would have put his arm around that fireman/grieving father and looked like a million bucks doing it) he didn't blow it. I remember stepping away from the TV for a minute that dreadful morning when it was announced that Air Force One was taking off, looking skyward - I was ten miles north of the Presidential party that fateful morning - and mumbling to myself, and to him, "Do your job, you son of a bitch." And for the most part he did. The people of the United States were as shocked, frightened and off-their-game in the weeks that directly followed than we have collectively ever been. To his credit Bush was widely perceived as being a calming and stabilizing presence in those most trying days.

But even this most favorable light can not help but fade as time goes on. I would rather see him break FDR'S record than relive the events of That Day. But God forbid the friends of those murdering scum strike again, here on America soil. Then we have a whole new ball game. If an attack even approaching the scale of the previous takes place, all bets are off. Such an unthinkable eventuality has the undeniable potential to trigger a seismic shift in how the American public rates the success of Bush's war on terror.

While may he forever be successful in keeping that wolf at bay, the outlook is grim for the long term impact of Mr Bush's other "victories" to date.

First; the international. There was scarcely a word of dissent when the US announced that based on the evidence at hand - evidence that according to what is available in the public record looks overwhelmingly damning towards Al Qaeda - it was taking large scale military action against the Islamic militants based in Afghanistan. The subsequent conquest of Afghanistan was by any definition a resounding military victory. Mind you it was over a fifth rate military power, a nation barely in the modern era - but a victory none the less. Unfortunately it was never total. The man whom Mr Bush personally and very publicly identified as Target 1, slipped through our grasp. And although he may very well be a persona non grata now in Bush circles, if the wave of bombings which has swept the mid East in the days leading up to this composition are any indication, he remains as demonic and as dangerous as ever.

In addition; now that we have moved on to bigger targets; the political/economic situation in Afghanistan is steadily sinking into a morass that is a negligible improvement over Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It's become a cliche that President Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul, and that life in the rest of the country is as wild and wooly as ever. Fortunately for the US President, the world's - or it just America's? - media have completely lost interest, so the story remains largely untold.

The same cannot be said about Iraq.

The road to war in Iraq was an entirely different story right from the get go. Without going back into the ugly details; the Bush Team, with a major assist from Blair and company, worked the selling of the Iraq campaign harder and longer than almost any war in American history. And even with all the enormous advantages offered by the office and the masterful massaging of America's fear, to say that we went to war with unbridled enthusiasm and near unanimity is laughable.

As for the rest of the world, the perceptions are even more negative. From the earliest days of the Bush administration groaning could be heard from many an overseas ministry. Tact and sensitivity are two words that do not come quickly to mind when describing the Bush diplomatic modus operandi. And that was before there was a war to get started on.

Even the most staunch advocate of the military action against Iraq would be hard pressed to keep a straight face while arguing that the United States did not pay a steep political and diplomatic price in the handling of the Iraqi affair. The ham-headed, heavy-handed, arrogant, condescending manner in which the Bush administration and its supporters cajoled, bullied, and bribed its way into the forming of a war-fighting "coalition" has left a trail of bad blood ringing the globe.

Mr Bush set a new benchmark for the level of disdain shown to a rational analysis of the cost-benefit of war with Iraq. He was consumed in his belief that it was very simple matter: the cause of the United States was righteous, and Saddam Hussein is evil. While the latter may very well be true, is has long been obvious that that Manichean view might make for quotable utterances but it is a lousy way to formulate global strategy.

So Bush told the world that we were going to war, and by golly he did it. Once again, in the interest of fairness; a tremendous victory was won. The American military performed on a level that clearly demonstrated their vast superiority in every facet of modern warfare. It's once again the peace that is not working out so well.

As with Afghanistan, while sweeping the enemies armies from the field we managed not to bag the head guy. And also as with Afghanistan, Team Bush has stopped speaking the evil one's name in hopes that everybody will just forget that he is very much alive and very much a potential problem. Even if this dubous strategy works and Saddam is never heard from again, Iraq itself will not soon fade from view.

To say the bloom is already off the rose in that tormented country is putting it mildly. As these comments are being written, the ubiquitous crawler on the TV is silently noting that five American servicemen were killed today in Iraq. Granted it was a helicopter accident, but these five names are now added to the roll of the dead which continues to grow. One shot while on patrol by an unknown assailant, another killed by unexploded ordnance, and then another in some similarly grisly fashion.

As for the conditions of the Iraqi people? Yes, they no longer live under the fear of a vicious police state, now they must endure anarchy and all of its threats, both the all too plainly apparent - rape, murder, widespread larceny, etc. - and the insidious - breakdowns in health care, education and economic routines and infrastructure. If things are not made dramatically better for the average Iraqi in the very near future, things could go south in a big way.

Then of course there is the 900-pound gorilla who isn't in the room. There are a minimum of a dozen rock-solid quotes - from all of the principals - that are a matter of public record which clearly state that the United States and its allies were forced into military action against Iraq due to the clear and present danger presented by Iraq's enormous arsenal of some of the most hideous weapons ever designed by man. However, not only were the highly-specialized and well-trained United Nations teams of inspectors unable to find any of these lethal devices, neither have the equally-specialized and well-trained American military weapon inspectors been able to locate any. As every new dead-end is abandoned, the only question left is did the Bush team lie, or were they operating under exceedingly bad information?

They have even managed to make a complete mess out of those problematic components whose location they were aware of. The disclosures that the American field commanders were not operating under orders to put known Iraqi nuclear installations and facilities under military control at the first possible moment, are damning in the extreme. If any of the radioactive materials subsequently looted someday end up in downtown St Louis, it will mark one of the most egregious failures of national security in American history.

Even if Mr Bush manages to keep these problem on the other side of the ocean, he is still faced with the daunting challenge of a domestic economy that has established a new low for the first two years of an American presidency. According to any number of well regarded sources, the American economy has lost more jobs on the Bush watch than under any other President in American history; the stock market remains 30 to 50% below the levels of 2000, talk of deflation is gaining momentum and overall growth is anemic at best.

And in spite of this, it is astounding to note that people still speak of Bush's foundation shaking tax cuts as victories. Maybe as a political maneuvering is concerned, but considering that tax cuts are a modern politician's way of buying votes from the common folk as well as paying off their more well-heeled benefactors, and take absolutely no political courage at all to enact, how great of a triumph was it? If the members of Congress had the clarity of mind to really study the issue when it first came up in early 2000, and voted strictly on its merits and with the best long-term interest of the nation as their guide, it would not have passed. And the Bush presidency would have come to halt less than six months into it.

As I said in the opening of this piece, I am afraid that that eventuality was only postponed; it will soon be on him with a vengeance.

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