The jury is still out on whether the Iraq war was a good decision from a policy standpoint. Indeed, the answer to that question may not be known in our lifetimes. But there is no doubt that politically, it has been a disaster for the administration.
Bush did not go to war for political gain, of course; he did it because he thought it was essential to preserve the safety of American citizens. Bush staked his administration on a huge gamble: that Iraqis could be a free, self-governing and peaceful people within a very limited time. Right now, that is looking like a bad bet.
If Bush had passed on attacking Saddam, he would be a shoo-in for re-election. With a successful campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban, no further terrorist attacks, a booming economy and a lousy Democratic opponent, he would have won in November in a landslide. By placing his fate in the hands of the Iraqi people, he has put his second term, and the future of the most difficult war this country has ever fought, very much in doubt.
Today’s Rasmussen tracking poll shows John Kerry with a six-point lead, well outside the margin of error. Bush has gotten no bounce whatsoever from the outstanding March jobs report; all other news has been swamped by the perceived disaster in Iraq. An astonishing 44% of voters now say that Bush is doing a “poor” job in Iraq. And the Democrats now enjoy an appalling ten-point lead over Republicans on the generic Congressional ballot. Control of the Senate, as well as the White House, may turn on our fortunes in Iraq.
Now, before our optimistic readers start bombarding us with emails, I am well aware of how volatile these early polls can be. Moreover, no one really has much idea what is happening in Iraq at this point, and it may be that when the smoke clears it will be evident that our forces have won a great victory. But the problem does not lie with our soldiers; it lies with the Iraqi people. President Bush’s idealistic faith that all people deserve to be free and are capable of living in peace may be borne out someday, but it is highly unlikely to be borne out in Iraq between now and next fall. There will almost certainly be violence there for the foreseeable future, and violence is equated with failure by a hysterical press and a great many American voters.
Iraq is not, and never will be, America’s second Vietnam. But it may well be President Bush’s Waterloo.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill