E.J. Dionne is ecstatic that President Bush, at long last, is “on the defensive.” According to Dionne, “an administration rarley on the defensive since 9/11 [is] forced to explain and explain. . .Who would have imagined that foreign policy and terrorism might become the administration’s weak point?. . .As the problems in Iraq mount, Democrats by the day are becoming less afraid of foreign policy. The president’s free ride is over.”
Actually, the president hasn’t had a free ride. Democrats have been sniping at him for quite some time on foreign policy and terrorism issues. The ride has been “free” only in the sense that the public found the attacks meritless, irrelevant, and offensive. I don’t think the situation has changed materially. The parsing of the State of the Union address, the larger WMD controversy, and the failure to rebuild Iraq overnight pose no real political problem for Bush, in my view. What matters is the safety of our troops. The one danger for Bush is the mounting death toll of American soldiers. In this sense, Bush is in a position similar to where he was just before the war. Then, all that mattered politically in the short term was winning without substantial loss of American lives. Now all that matters politically in the short term is maintaining our presence without substantial loss of American lives. The difference is that the current mission seems to be the more challenging of the two.
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