What Does President Bush Have To Lose?

There is concern in some quarters that, in the wake of last month’s election, President Bush may back off from his longstanding commitment to victory in the war on terror generally, and in Iraq in particular. Michael Barone, however, isn’t buying it. Barone thinks Bush has more in common with Harry Truman than Lyndon Johnson:

While George W. Bush’s many critics and detractors portray him as facing the same dilemma as Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Bush himself seems determined to proceed the way Harry Truman did in Korea — or, as some might put it, as Winston Churchill did after Dunkirk.
Bush seems unpersuaded [by his critics]. “There’s one thing I’m not going to do,” he said at last week’s NATO summit in Riga, Latvia. “I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.”
In this, Bush has the support of others. Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates opposes a quick pullout. So does the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Central Command’s Gen. John Abizaid.
Truman’s perseverance despite his 22 percent job approval — much lower than Bush’s — was essential in preserving the independence of South Korea, which now has the world’s 14th-largest economy. Churchill, facing Hitler alone, could promise only “blood, toil, tears and sweat” until his enemies’ mistakes — Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union, the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor — gave him the allies that made victory possible.
We should keep in mind, as well, Bush’s repeated vow not to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. That’s in tension with the Iraq Study Group’s expected recommendation of direct negotiations with Iran: The obvious quid pro quo for Iranian help in stabilizing Iraq would be dropping our opposition to Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, the opposite approach may be what’s needed.
NBC News has declared that Iraq is in the midst of a “civil war,” just as CBS’s Walter Cronkite declared Vietnam was lost after Tet. Many in the mainstream media today, as in 1968, see nothing but the prospect of American defeat. George W. Bush seems to have other ideas.

Added support for that view came today, in an interview the President gave to Fox News. The interview has not yet aired, but once again, Bush declared his determination not to be defeated in Iraq, and laid out the sobering consequences such a defeat would have.
Liberal Democrats and media figures have tried to create a sense of panic about Iraq: the country is a disaster, the war has been lost, all we can do is find an “exit strategy” and get out. But what is there in that course for President Bush? Politically, the worst has happened: the Democrats have ridden anti-Iraq war hysteria to control of Congress. But they won’t dare cut off appropriations for the war. As for Bush, he doesn’t have to run again, and the situation in Congress won’t change for the remainder of his term. So why not do what he thinks is right? So far, Bush has never wavered in his commitment to victory; why should he falter now?
I’m sure some critics of the war are sincere in believing that it represents a mistaken policy and that the country would be better served to withdraw. In many instances, though, I think what liberals really fear is that Bush’s Iraq policy will yet prove successful. By stampeding the country into withdrawal, they can guarantee failure, and blame it on Bush. But there is one problem with that plan: the person the liberals really need to stampede is the President, and he just might decide to hold firm. If, five years from now, Iraq is a stable, functioning democracy, the President’s critics will look very silly indeed.
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