Jewish World Review May 20, 2004 / 29 Iyar, 5764
The rigidification of George Bush
In 1972, presidential historian David James Barber, writing in the shadow of Vietnam, described a process he called "rigidification" in his landmark work on presidential character.
Describing the conduct of such presidents as Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson, he spoke of a president who adheres "rigidly to a line of policy long after it had proved itself a failure. … Each of these presidents had in his mind a theory, a conception of reality, of causation, a set of principles which came to guide his action. These principles … (were) shared by a great many thoughtful people. …
They were 'wrong' in terms of logic and evidence but they were widely accepted. …
The president appears as a man unable to see what, eventually, nearly everyone else around him sees; that the line of action is simply not working. That, for whatever reason, the costs of persevering in it are far too high. … In each of these cases, the president did, in fact, freeze onto a line of action and stick to it long after it began to produce terrible trouble for the country and the man."
There can be no better description of President Bush's policy in Iraq. The 2003 invasion, amply justified by the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, was instead sold as a way to rid Iraq of its supposed weapons of mass destruction. Failing to find any, it was reconstituted as a bid to establish a model for Middle East democracy in Iraq. But it is "simply not working."
Frozen "into a line of action," Bush has ridden the polls downward so that now Gallup reports that only 44 percent think the invasion was worth it and 41 percent approve of Bush's handling of the war. The president has gone from owning the terrorism issue to hanging on by his fingernails, bolstered only by his own negative ads against Kerry.
Will Bush really trade a desert mirage of Iraqi democracy for a second term in office? By forcing our military into an occupier's role and making our military men and women into prison guards, the president has sapped the will, self-esteem, pride and commitment of the American people. We now look with shame on that which we once viewed with justified pride: our efforts to liberate an oppressed people.
How can Bush get out of this quagmire? By realizing that there are certain objectives that lie beyond our capabilities. Let Iraq descend into warring chaos, but keep our troops out of it. Inevitably power struggles will rage as we withdraw, and likely will incite further bloodshed and violence. Keep our men and women nearby, on military bases, to be sure that the Baathists do not come back. But let the people and leaders of that savage land do their thing. Perhaps Iraq, an invention of the British foreign office's mapmakers, will break apart into three nations. What is so wrong with that?
Can Bush come back? Yes. There is still time. But he must get out from under this mess and the sooner the better.
Ralph Nader may yet ride to the rescue. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), anxious to establish his hawkish credentials, has kept his attention riveted on the peripheral issues of Social Security, prescription-drug prices and education reform. He has avoided basing his campaign on Bush's missteps in Iraq.
In doing so, he is leaving the way open for Nader to embrace a strident anti-war position that will appeal to the crowds of former Howard Dean supporters on and off America's campuses. It is easy to see how these misguided souls might come to feel that there is no difference between the two pro-war candidacies of Kerry and Bush and vote for a clear alternative, however self-destructive.
Just as Al Gore empowered Nader in 2000 by vacating the green ground of environmentalism he had formerly occupied to the nominee of the Green Party, so Kerry seems to be determined to stay in the center on the war in Iraq whatever the consequences on his left flank.
But only Bush can ultimately save Bush. Will he wake up in time, or will he, in the words of Barber, "ride the tiger to the end?"
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, most recently, "Rewriting History", a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History. (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris