16 March, 2006

Is that a big stick, or has your base truly deserted you?

In his e-mailed Geopolitical Intelligence Brief earlier this week, George Friedman of Stratfor (sorry, no deep links available) brilliantly outlines how recent, as well as longer-brewing events such as staff fatigue, have combined to weaken the Bush presidency, raising the possibility that key foreign leaders (both adversaries and allies) will question his personal authority to make and keep promises and to dole out consequences (economic, military and otherwise).

...the cartoon controversy should have strengthened Bush politically, by strengthening his support base among national-security conservatives. But Bush did not reach out with an effort to draw those who were offended by the Muslim response into his coalition. Instead of defending the right to free speech regardless of who is offended, Bush tried to reach out to Muslims... rather than capitalizing on the event to broaden his political base, he left his own supporters wondering what he was talking about. [emphasis added]
Following close on this misstep (something we cannot imagine Reagan having stumbled over), the president's quasi-Napoleonic handling of the UAE ports deal amounted to a one-two punch:
Democrats, like Sen. Charles Schumer, saw an opening and went for it. That's to be expected, it's what the opposition does. But the response among Republican national-security conservatives was visceral and explosive. Even if Republican senators and congressman did not agree with the views held by their constituents, the pressure they were under still would have been enormous. Thus, they broke with Bush in the face of his early threat to veto any legislation blocking the ports deal. By the end, the president was in retreat, very publicly unable to get his way.
Friedman notes that absent a major political shoring-up at home - something he believes may be difficult to achieve - Mr. Bush is setting up to join the sad, sorry list of 'failed' presidencies.
Wilson collapsed over the League of Nations, Truman over Korea. Johnson collapsed over Vietnam, and Nixon had Watergate with a touch of Vietnam. Carter was done in by the Iranian hostage situation. But there is one difference between these and the current president: Bush is only one year into his second term. He has just reached a critical low in approval ratings and Republicans have begun distancing themselves. If he doesn't recover, it will be one of the longest failed presidencies in history. There would be three years in which foreign powers would operate with diminished concern for U.S. wishes and responses. Three years is a very long time.
Love him or hate him, that's dangerous - for the entire republic. Which is all a long way round to saying what we believe a commenter here was attempting to get at over the weekend - and something we'll reluctantly concede. Despite all that he has done, recent tactical errors may (and we emphasize may) have cost Mr. Bush the effectiveness that the international situation demands at the moment if we're to remain secure - much less achieve the laudable goals of his Mideast vision.

It would be easy to blame unhinged radical Democrats (and we do) for finally landing a shot. The fact that they've been taking them - randomly, regularly and with little responsibility - since shortly before the WTC pit stopped smoking leaves some of them beyond contempt. That ample fodder has been chewed so long we won't waste space on another mouthful of it.

What truly stings however - at least for this ardent Bush supporter - is that there were really two shots. One was aimed cleverly if opportunistically at splitting the Republican base and, uncharacteristically for the Democrats who aimed it, less directly at Mr. Bush himself. The second was a veritable volley - aimed and fired by different species of one-time Bush supporters at one another and the president, all in the interest of gaining in 2006. Which makes us want to plead (knowing full well the reasons why it may be impossible): can't we all just get along?

As candidates start to jockey for 2006 and 2008, it's important to avoid pining for a constitutional provision we thankfully do not have: the vote of no confidence. That, we'll argue, is even more volatile and dangerous in dealing with foreign powers, especially when one is the Leviathan. After all, foreign leaders too must contemplate their own strategies over 34 months.

It's not hard to imagine recent and upcoming events further strengthening NatSec hard-liners in both parties and the president along with them. Iran will boil over soon, if only because the Israelis understandably lose faith in fundamentally flawed talky-talk with the two-faced Russians and Chinese. North Korea will continue to remind the world that it too has nuclear weapons and is led by a narcissistic psychopath. And bird flu will continue to make headlines, possibly big ones as the year rolls on. Add to that the fact that when Mr. Bush has been underestimated he has, more often than not, drawn strength from the adversity and come out swinging and landing punches e.g., as this news would seem to suggest.

Given the dearth of credible Democratic hawks after having tacked well left of the socialists for too long, that would mean a veritable Republican tsunami in 2006 and the fatal evisceration of radical fringe Democrats. The principled Liebermans, and completely unprincipled Hillaries (lacking substance but still mouthing the words) would be the only ones left standing outside of a few delusional states such as our own.

Where does that leave us late this year? The scenario could evolve in any number of ways, but we see the strong possibility that any foreign leader looking in at the U.S. and assessing the president's bargaining leverage and war-making authority in December will be delighted to deal with him now rather than face a less restrained butt-kicker winning in 2008. Possibly worse from the perspective of Iran, China, Syria, and others would be a Democrat with a chip on the shoulder, eager to play against expectations by quickly and unambiguously demonstrating his or her street cred on the world stage (think FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson or Wilson).

Either way, we have enemies that eagerly await our destroying ourselves. Either way, we cannot afford to fail. Fair or not (and whether they like to acknowledge it or not) the rest of the world is once again depending on us and not the UN to save them from the Hobbesian jungle.

UPDATE I: Welcome Roger Simon readers! Breaking news as of 11AM is that a big stick - a very big stick - is being wielded against insurgents in Iraq: Operation Swarmer.
The United States on Thursday launched what was termed the largest air assault since the U.S.-led invasion, targeting insurgent strongholds... Iraqi troops also were involved in the operation aimed at clearing a "suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra. More than 1,500 Iraqi and Coalition troops, over 200 tactical vehicles, and more than 50 aircraft participated in the operation," the military statement said. Samarra is 60 miles north of Baghdad... the operation was expected to continue over several days...
Mr. Ahmadinejad, are you watching? More (but not a lot more) detail at FOX.

UPDATE II (11:05AM): We're betting that the timing of this operation is no accident - just a few hours after the new Iraqi Parliament was sworn in.

UPDATE III (11:21AM): Dread Pundit Bluto links to the CENTCOM press release and notes:
Samarra is the site of the al-Askariya shrine. The bombing of the shrine touched off a mix of sectarian violence and terrorist activity designed to promote sectarian strife.
And quoting FOX, 'Stop the ACLU' notes:
...initial reports indicate that a number of enemy weapons caches have been captured, containing artillery shells, explosives, IED-making materials, and military uniforms.
UPDATE IV: Indepundit is hearing broad hints that one target of Operation Swarmer may be Zarqawi himself. Gateway Pundit has a number of links regarding a recent spike in Al Qaeda 'chatter'. Taken together with messages like this, that would shed more light on the timing of the operation.

UPDATE V: New visitors should check out the archives, including three new posts today: Majority Does Not Equal Morality, The American Ideal and Finally, Some Well-Directed Campus Activism

UPDATE VI: Re. Operation Swarmer... Uh... Never mind.
...the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact,there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders. The operation, which doubled the population of the flat farmland in one single airlift, was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces...