BozBlog: Arthur Schlesinger on Bush and Iraq

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I’m starting a new feature -- “Boswell Blogging." Time and time again when I’m out and about, someone says something interesting that I want to pass on to you. That’s when I’ll BozBlog.

It happened yesterday over lunch with Arthur Schlesinger. So Dr. Schlesinger will be the first to take on the role of quotable Dr. Johnson, with me playing the part of his trusty scribe.

“What Korea was to Truman, and Vietnam was to LBJ, Iraq will be to George W. Bush,” Dr. S. told me. In all three cases, the public grew weary of a drawn out war with no end in sight. History shows that there is nothing sacrosanct about wartime presidents. There is no guaranteed immunity for them. Rally round the president when the nation is at war is the American tradition -- but only for a time. The Korean War forced Truman to pull out of the 1952 race. Vietnam forced Johnson to pull out in 1968.

Bush was able to keep Iraq at bay long enough to get re-elected, but the debacle threatens to derail his second term. It’s already starting to happen -- just look at the latest polls.

According to Washington Post/ABC News, for the first time a majority of Americans feel that the war has not made the U.S. safer. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of Bush’s handling of it. Fifty-eight percent say the war was not worth fighting. And 73 percent consider the number of casualties unacceptable.

But poll numbers are not the only figures the White House should be worrying about. Dick Cheney’s “last throes” delusion is being rebutted by the figures coming out of Iraq every day. May was the fifth deadliest month of the war for U.S. troops. And in just the first nine days of June, 26 Americans have been killed and 51 wounded.

This is clearly not a war that is waning or winnable. Yet the Bush administration continues to refuse to even consider the idea of developing an exit strategy. And don’t tell me it’s when Iraqi troops are ready to take over the fight; at the rate they’re going, Ahmed Chalabi’s great-grandchildren will be leading the first all-Iraqi push against the insurgents.

Like LBJ with Vietnam, Bush appears to be losing touch both with reality and with the sentiments of a growing majority of Americans. But, unlike Johnson, he seems strangely unaffected by the disconnect. Perhaps because he’s so convinced that God put him there. That He saved him from drinking and drugs so he could spread democracy in Iraq. But a combination of hubris and incompetence -- always a dangerous cocktail -- could well be his undoing. Unlike Truman and Johnson, he doesn’t have any more elections to lose -- but his party does. If only the Democrats would find their voice on the subject as 2006 approaches.