September 21, 2003

What If There Was No 22nd Amendment?

John Kass has a perceptive column on what a politician might have done...

Just before war started in Iraq, a talking head was on one of those TV panel shows where they yell at each other, but this one wasn't yelling, and what he said made sense.

He said that President Bush would be making a serious political mistake, threatening his bid for re-election, if he waged war on Saddam Hussein.

It was understood even before the war that an attack on Iraq would cost billions during a lousy economy. Americans would die there. Rebuilding Iraq would be difficult. Terrorists would drift in across the borders and--with Hussein loyalists--work to destabilize Iraq while sniping at American soldiers.

After the first blush of unquestioning patriotism faded, when his wartime approval rating would naturally begin to come back to earth, the president's critics would pick at him. They'd draw parallels to Vietnam and invoke the magic word: quagmire.

Critics would condition Americans to expect and demand immediate success in the rebuilding, perhaps with Iraqi chambers of commerce and Iraqi Elks and Rotary Clubs, parades down main street, baseball, Iraq as Iowa.

Every American casualty would serve as an indictment. Every failure would be pumped up by Democrats seeking to regain power--even by presidential candidates who voted for the war, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass). Conservative Republican deficit hawks would oppose it, as would liberal Democrats, Libertarians and so on.

So the best thing the president could have done, politically, would have been to leave it all to the United Nations, to walk away while loudly declaring victory. That would have been the shrewd move.

Hmmm..., I wonder who Mr. Kass might be thinking of?

If Bush had been politically astute and declared victory and had not given the order to fire, the Germans and the French would have praised him for his "commitment to peace" and for his "restraint." Critics might have discussed his newfound "gravitas." He could have stalled and postured and rattled his saber loudly while avoiding the fact of Hussein there in Iraq. Perhaps the president could have dropped a few bombs safely from above.

There is precedent for fighting what we call painless wars, meaning wars in which we drop bombs and the only ones feeling pain are those killed by them, wars without much risk on the ground to Americans. The most recent was in Serbia, to save the Muslim Albanians being slaughtered by former communist thugs.

That war was led by Clinton and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, whom Democrats are counting on to rescue them from Howard Dean. Recently, the Albanians we saved from the Serbs have begun the nasty habit of spilling blood farther south in Europe, and are now fighting with the Macedonians. But apparently, Americans aren't interested in such news at this time. There's no presidential political angle to it.

So it's clear to me that Bush did not make the smart political move by getting rid of Hussein. Politicians don't like taking responsibility--it leaves them open to criticism. And Democrats, naturally, are at full throttle, legitimately critical but also highly political, so many voices framing the debate their way.

Bush is a politician, too. And if he were smart, he could have given himself cover by avoiding responsibility. If he'd only acted like a politician.

I not going to fully sign on to this. After all, President George W. Bush is still a politician. But it may well be true that doing the right thing will cost him a second term.

As a total aside, I was watching Young Mr. Lincoln, directed by John Ford and starring a young Henry Fonda, last night. At one point there is a character named John Palmer Kass, being questioned by Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln gives Mr. Kass a pretty hard time and after some verbal jousting about his name, announces that he will just call him Jack Kass. Do not read anything into this.

Posted by Charles Austin at September 21, 2003 11:33 AM

Doing the right thing is always more important than acquiring and maintaining power. But just try telling that to a Democrat. Sheesh.

Posted by: Harry at 01:23 AM