It is not really very nice to judge people by their facial appearance, but sometimes that is all we have to go by. For instance, if I asked you to buy a copy of my book, you would take one look at my photo above this column, shudder, and give your money to that nice Mr. Soros instead. And yet I’m a guy who at least produces some edgy fun while he produces nothing but a hedge fund.
If you came to a family gathering to meet all the long-lost relatives you have never seen, and you encountered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush among the assembled, you would immediately recognize their roles. Mister Bush is the nice uncle who slips you twenty bucks when your parents aren’t looking. Mahmoud is the creepy perverted cousin who, er, slips you twenty bucks when your parents aren’t looking… but you had better not take it. Mr. A leers, Mr. B beams, Mr. A cackles, Mr. B chuckles, you understand what I’m sayin’ here.
And sometimes, sometimes, Fate arranges things so the good uncle has to get tough and clobber the nasty cousin to keep him from splitting the nuclear family. President Bush shows every indication of getting ready to do some military damage to Iran, and Ahmadinejad’s pugnacity is making him do it. That, and the American liberals. With each passing day, the behavior of Democrats and leftists in this country is pushing the President inexorably toward this explosive direction.
Yes, it is indeed ironic. Had the Iraq war gone more smoothly, with the United States exiting more or less uneventfully sometime in 2004 or ’05, and the left forced to grudgingly attest to the efficacy of the policy to oust Saddam, there would have been zero chance that this President would take overt action against Iran. He would have taken his victory lap in Iraq and headed for a long breather at the sidelines, basking in the accolades. Quit while you are ahead, that would have been his motto.
In fact, in early 2004, he told a colleague of mine, “Oh, I think in Iran we’ll play Kick The Can, and just keep kicking the can down the road without picking it up.” The implication was that he could not be expected to take on Iraq and Iran in one administration.
But the Iraqi falafel proved to be easier to swallow than to digest, and the liberals are having it all ways, blaming him for thinking the war was necessary, blaming him for exaggerating the reasons before he acted, blaming him for not doing enough before the war to prepare, blaming him for not leaving the Iraqi army intact, blaming him for leaving al-Qaeda too intact, blaming him for not sending enough men before, blaming him for sending too many men now. He keeps himself going through all this by a combination of principle and the faith that historians will get it right later. That’s not a guess: he tells that to people privately, and hints at it in public addresses.
The problem now is that his critics have hardened their opposition to his Iraq policy beyond repair, so he simply cannot leave office anymore without solving Iran in a satisfactory way. If he does that, and Iran becomes a belligerent nuclear power after his departure, he will have failed by any standard. By the leftist measure, he should never have woken up the sleeping dogs. By the rightist yardstick, you don’t shoot one dog loudly enough to wake its companion, and then leave the second dog free to do as much mischief as the first.
Some of this may sound a tad self-serving, a type of thinking we would hope to be beneath the level of Presidential deliberations. Yet to anyone who has entered the molten core of politics, this type of calculation is everyday fare. History forces elected officials into following the logic of their policies to its consistent conclusion. A President must stake out a position on the spectrum of leadership and then jog in place until the bitter end.
Perhaps things would be different if the projections for 2008 favored a Republican victory in the presidential race. In all honesty, it does not, with the edge currently to Democrats; at best things are 50-50. With that in mind, President Bush cannot rely on a successor to continue along the path of standing up to battle the Axis of Evil. Either way this ain’t gonna be pretty, but saying “Uncle” to Cousin Mahmoud is just not the way to go.