Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Administration runs into trap door overseas

Every administration has its defining moment that symbolizes its successes or failures — from John Kennedy’s “Ich bien ein Berliner” to Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” from Richard Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” to Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman,” from George H.W. Bush throwing up in Japan to George W. visiting Beijing more than a decade later and getting stuck in front of a door that would not open. (Maybe it was the first Bush’s immortal words, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” that got him defeated.)

The trap door where President Bush found himself on Sunday as he tried to leave a press conference that was going badly is a pretty good snapshot of an administration that has lost its way.

The President’s poll numbers are down 50 points in four years — an unprecedented decline that speaks volumes about lost opportunities since 9/11. Unable to convince most Americans that the war in Iraq was worth fighting, the administration, while attacking its critics, is speeding up plans to withdraw our troops starting next fall, just in time for the November congressional elections.

The Senate two weeks ago passed a measure calling for a pullback starting next year.

Iraqi factions on Tuesday called for a similar timetable, leaving the Bush administration little choice but to join the bandwagon, with or without Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who are still true believers.

Republicans made a mistake picking a fight with Rep. John Murtha, an avuncular figure who last week called for an early withdrawal from Iraq.

The administration and its supporters tried to attack Murtha, then backed off, calling him a patriot who has every right to speak out.
Speak out? Invite him into the Bush cabinet.

Although the Republican-passed Senate resolution is similar to Murtha’s position on the war, the House last Friday voted on an absurd Republican measure calling for immediate withdrawal. It was rejected after a nasty partisan fight, but it revealed deep divisions in a once solidly united Repub-lican Party, where support for the war has dropped as casualties continue to rise.

Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran, is a plain-spoken conservative Democrat who is one of the Pentagon’s biggest boosters in Congress. Like CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who turned against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and changed public opinion almost overnight, Murtha has won over millions of Americans who see our involvement in Iraq as a series of mistakes — from faulty intelligence to inadequate troop strength and supplies — although most Americans have believed that for months.

Bush has lost the support of the left, center and right. A trifecta.

Just a third of the public approves the way Bush is handling his job, which will make him a lame duck for the next three years, unless he reaches out to new advisers and fires his national security team, from Cheney on down, and starts all over, refocusing his energies and leveling with the public on why his administration has faltered so badly.

Voters and pundits from across the political spectrum have concluded that we have stumbled badly in Iraq. The President could start by admitting that the so-called intelligence that led us into war was totally wrong and the people who misled him and the nation are banished from government forever.

He owes that much to the nation and the people who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.