Presidents trapped in enemy territory can look for help from three sources: allies, propagandists and partisans.
Our man on the white horse has but one ally, Tony Blair, and at this stage of the conflictMr. Bush at home, abroad or in Iraq.
Many widely read propagandists in the American media articulated the administration's case for war and occupation better than the administration ever did; many have now gone wobbly.
And the partisans, Congressional Republicans, badly burned after they bought the administration's WMD bill of goods, are deeply wary,.
The Lone Ranger is in a tight spot.
He went to war without broad international support and with a divided American public; he's starting to feel the consequences. In his still-short political career, he and his posse have always been able to come up with a silver bullet, usually a 30 second television spot. It might work against John Kerry in a few months. It ain't gonna do much good in Iraq.
The ally problem is the most predictable and the most serious. Even before he took office, George Bush never seemed much interested in foreigners or foreign places. In the debates, Bush struggled to name leaders of other countries as he denounced nation-building and naïve missions to make the world safe for democracy, like the mission he's now leading in Iraq.
As soon as he moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Bush started tearing up treaties. Out went the Kyoto Treaty on Global Climate Change. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- forget about it. The administration opposed the new International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes. It has refused to ratify the treaty to ban the use of landmines and fought enforcing international conventions limiting chemical weapons and biological weapons, a.k.a. WMD. And United Nations support to invade Iraq? That's wussy stuff.
So now there is no reservoir of good will, even in the non-Muslim world, to help the U.S. recover from the failures at Abu Ghraib. Perhaps the abuses would have been less likely to have occurred in the first place if we had deeper alliances in Iraq, if we weren't stretched too thin, if we were part of a truly international mission.
And good luck if the U.S. ever needs allies to put themselves at risk in, say, North Korea, Pakistan or Indonesia.
Similarly, George Bush never exhibited any great interest in ideas and intellectuals in his career. He gets pretty good mileage out of his anti-egghead routine; maybe it's an act, I don't know. But conservative public intellectuals like Bush. He's something of a Rorschach test for them; they project onto him what they want to see: the cold-eyed, Hobbesian realist, the idealist missionary of democracy and the fighter of evil. Bush may never have joined any of those clubs himself, but he sure has used all their secret passwords to sell the war at various points.
And now there's substantial blackballing of the Bonesman by influential conservative brainsmen. And they are, ironically, attacking the administration's brainpower.
George Will, enemy of neo-con messianism in the Middle East, wrote, "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts."
David Brooks wrote, "It's not too early to begin thinking about what was clearly an intellectual failure. There was, above all, a failure to understand the consequences of our power. There was a failure to anticipate the response our power would have on the people we sought to liberate."
"The Bush administration seems not to recognize how widespread, and how bipartisan, is the view that Iraq is already lost or on the verge of being lost," according to William Kristol and Robert Kagan, two of the most influential hawks. "The administration therefore may not appreciate how close the whole nation is to tipping decisively against the war. … So Iraq could be lost if the Bush administration holds to the view that it can press ahead with its political and military strategy without any dramatic change of course, without taking bold and visible action to reverse the current downward trajectory."
The embarrassment and incompetence of Abu Ghraib, after the WMD fiasco, after the bloody occupation the nation wasn't prepped for, has quieted the GOP cheerleading section in Congress. Influential, but conventional foreign policy specialists like Pat Roberts and Richard Lugar are walking the borders of the reservation. Mavericks like John McCain and Chuck Hagel are mavericking.
So where can the president turn to get support for salvaging the Iraq project? Will other countries and the international institutions like the United Nations be prepared to send help, to facilitate a new government, elections and a less violent transition? Will Congress send more troops and treasure? Will American public opinion, now deeply divided, offer any more tolerance and patience? Will P.R. stunts like taking Rumsfeld to a phony woodshed fool anyone?
In times like this, the Lone Ranger turns to Tonto. Are you ready, Mr. Rove?
In modern statecraft, those who can't do, spin.
Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, has covered politics and government in Washington for 20 years and has won the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Alfred I. Dupont, and Society of Professional Journalists awards for investigative journalism.
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By Dick Meyer