Monday, January 17, 2005

President Bush's rhetoric

Over the weekend, President Bush said that the elections provided an "accountability moment" and professed to press full steam ahead with his plan in Iraq. Any mistakes that were made, he suggested, were an inevitable consequence of the fog of war. I believe his rhetoric about having a mandate and keeping a straight course is less a consequence of deeply held beliefs and more the result of political calculations.

Claiming mandates in the aftermath of bitterly divided elections is nothing new in the history of the American presidency. It is a strategy that has worked for President Bush, and there is no reason for him not to try to spend political capital that he believes he has earned. After all, if that political capital turns out not to be there, he won't have lost much in trying to spend what he doesn't have. Time will tell whether he truly has a mandate, or is already something like a lame duck.

A major theme of President Bush's campaign was that he was a man who meant what he said and a man who always stuck to his beliefs. However, there is no reason to believe that he has a better track record than anyone else. President Bush has often reversed course, from initially opposing the Department of Homeland Security and then using the issue to sink Democrats in the 2002 elections and then supporting the creation of the Department of Intelligence only after Senator Kerry endorsed the idea. On Iraq, he has recast the rationale for the military intervention from disarming Saddam Hussein to making Iraq safe for democracy.

But it probably makes good politics for President Bush to insist that he is staying the course in Iraq, even if he has had to adjust his strategy in response to the situation there. Even if Iraq has been a mistake, what is the alternative? Admit to the nation and to the world that Iraq was a mistake? Although this might be a first step towards restoring credibility on the global stage and obtaining the help of other nations on Iraq, such an admission might backfire in undercutting the foundations of whatever democracy there is in Iraq. But all this is pure speculation. Who knows, President Bush might even prove right and Iraq worth it over the long run.

One final point. President Bush parried Senator Kerry's criticisms of his handling of the war in Iraq with the charge that such attacks undermined the morale of U.S. troops, implying that the senator was being unpatriotic in questioning the handling of the war. President Bush had the right to make such a charge, and probably had no real alternatives anyway. But Senator Kerry was right to question the handling of the war, and critics today should continue to say what President Bush himself cannot say about the realities on the ground in Iraq. Ongoing debate is part of what makes a vibrant democracy and can help point the way to better strategies that President Bush may quietly incorporate into his policies all the while claiming to hold the course in Iraq.


Blogger Ha ha hit him again said...

I agree it would be suicide for the President to admit that Iraq was a mistake, but that is no reason why he can't change course in more (or not so) subtle ways. Asking Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to stay on was an utter disaster, if for no other reason than it seems like more of the same. Worse, now he has tied his own hands - if the election goes poorly, he can hardly fire Rumsfeld right away after just asking him to stay on. I don't know if anyone could have done a better job, but I do know that Rumsfeld went in with too few troops and continues to insist that "the commanders on the ground have what they asked for." On the bright side, at least the President admitted "bring it on" was a mistake - a small concession, but more than we are used to. I wonder why Kerry killed that line after the primary....

1/17/2005 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm...I sometimes wonder if your contempt for Bush is because he went to Yale and you go to Harvard. Anyway though, Bush is an idiot. For him to say he sticks to his guns just demonstrates how close minded he is. Its important for a leader to stick up for what he believes in but he has to also be open-minded. Its part of the reason I didn't vote for him (but I didn't vote for Kerry either).

1/19/2005 07:02:00 PM  

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