ABC News notes the obvious — that President Bush’s approval ratings are in the toilet. Indeed, Bush’s strength even among members of his own party is waning. It’s not a pleasant situation for a President to be in — even a lame duck one. Most of this disapproval comes from the war in Iraq.
Glenn Reynolds has some cogent thoughts about why this is:
I also think that Bush’s loss of support on the war stems from the loss of visible forward motion. The casualties aren’t the problem (we’ve lost fewer troops in nearly four years than we were expected to lose in the initial push to Baghdad), so much as the sense that we’re taking casualties and nothing is happening. This impatience is perhaps unfortunate, but it’s a well-known characteristic in the Pentagon (where people were talking about the “three year rule” on support for wars back in 2003) and the Bush Administration doesn’t seem to have had a strategy for dealing with it.
I agree. We’re not making enough visible progress to keep the American public supporting this war. Part of that is because we have a media that wants America to lose, the consequences be damned. We have a Democratic Party that is increasingly backing the enemy in demanding a pullout, and when you have years of constant negativity with pathetically little attempt to correct the record, this is exactly what will results. The Bush Administration hasn’t led. Our soldiers are fighting bravely, and there’s little doubt among our troops that the war in Iraq is quite winnable. But the Administration isn’t backing them up.
Bush doesn’t have the killer instinct he needs. We should have never ceded forward momentum in this war, but Bush hasn’t pushed nearly hard enough on Iran and Syria. As Prof. Reynolds says, when our enemies know that the costs of their actions are so cheap, they will continue to cause problems for us and the Iraqis. So long as the Iranians know we’re not going to touch them, they’ll continue developing nuclear weapons and arming terrorists in Iraq.
As General Patton was fond of saying, the three elements of successful warfare are audacity, audacity, and audacity. We began in Iraq with an audacious goal — establish an outpost of democracy in the Middle East. Yet we didn’t do all we could to see that goal completed. We didn’t secure Iraq, and we didn’t do enough to develop the civil society that is a precondition for democracy. In the absence of civil society, the organizing unit of Iraq became the gang — the Mahdi Army has been causing us problems for years because we keep backing off. If the US Army had gone into Najaf and killed Moqtada al-Sadr dead on the spot, Iraq would be much more peaceful. That would have sent the message that the price for committing terrorism in Iraq was death, and it would have been a lesson that would have been learned well. Unfortunately, we’ve been far too reticent to hunt down and kill the people who cause terrorism — and when the price of terrorism becomes cheap, you get more terrorism.
Bush’s approval ratings could well go up if the surge is successful — and for the sake of both Iraq and the United States, it had better be. Nothing succeeds like success, and the lack of visible success in Iraq is the albatross around the President’s neck.
It may be well too late for Bush to find his fighting spirit again, especially now that the feckless defeatist Democrats have taken power. However, losing Iraq is infinitely worse than losing temporal political points — Bush’s one saving grace is that he isn’t willing to back down even though that would be the politically expedient thing to do. We cannot afford to lose Iraq, and we’re already facing a future in which American power will be more constrained by petty politics than ever before. Even if we manage to stabilize Iraq, the Bush Administration’s inability to vigorously prosecute this war will only make it harder for us in the future.