You are not alone, Mr. Pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dency has been called “A Glo­ri­ous Bur­den” by the Smith­so­nian Mu­seum, and the loneli­est job in the world by his­to­ri­ans. As we approach Christ­mas 2006 Anno Do­mini, Pres­i­dent Bush is surely fully seized of the lone­li­ness and bur­den of his of­fice.

For rarely has a pres­i­dent stood more alone at a mo­ment of high cri­sis than does our pres­i­dent now as he makes his cru­cial pol­icy de­ci­sions on the Iraq War. His po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents stand tri­umphant, yet bar­ren of use­ful guid­ance. Many — if not most — of his fel­low party men and women in Wash­ing­ton are rapidly join­ing his op­po­nents in a des­per­ate ef­fort to save their po­lit­i­cal skins in 2008. Com­men­ta­tors who urged the pres­i­dent on in 200203, hav­ing fallen out of love with their ideas, are quick to quib­ble with and de­fame the pres­i­dent.

James Baker, be­ing called out of his busi­ness deal­ings by Congress to ad­vise the pres­i­dent, has de­liv­ered a cyn­i­cal doc­u­ment in­tended to build a po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus for “hon­or­able” sur­ren­der. Richard Haass (head of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions) spoke ap­prov­ingly of the Baker re­port on “Meet the Press,” say­ing: “It’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant [. . .] that the prin­ci­ple les- son [of our in­ter­ven­tion Iraq] not be that the United States is un­re­li­able or we lacked stay­ing power [. . .] to me it is es­sen­tially im­por­tant for the fu­ture of this coun­try that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s fail­ure, not as Amer­ica’s fail­ure.” That such trans­par­ent sophism from the leader of the Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment is dig­ni­fied with the ti­tle of re­al­ism, only fur­ther ex­em­pli­fies the lone­li­ness of the pres­i­dent in his quest for a work­able so­lu­tion to the cur­rent dan­ger.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the most re­cent polls show just 21 per­cent ap­proval of his han­dling of the war — an 8 per­cent drop since the elec­tion, and that mostly from Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives. Over­all, his job ap­proval level is down to 31 per­cent.

If Wash­ing­ton gos­sip is right, even many of the pres­i­dent’s own ad­vis­ers in the White House and the key cabi­net of­fices have given up on suc­cess. Of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton, the me­dia and much of the pub­lic have fallen un­der the un­con­scionable thrall of de­featism. Which is to say that they can­not con­ceive of a set of poli­cies — for a na­tion of 300 mil­lion with an an­nual GDP of more than $12 tril­lion dol­lars and all the skills and tech­nolo­gies known to man — to sub­due the city of Bagh­dad and en­vi­rons. Do you think Gen. Pat­ton or Abe Lin­coln or Win­ston Churchill or Joseph Stalin would have thrown their hands up and say “I give up, there’s noth­ing we can do?”

Or do you sup­pose they would have said, let’s send in as many troops as we can as­sem­ble to hold on, while we raise more troops to fin­ish the job. If the vic­tory is that im­por­tant — and it is — then fail­ure must be un­think­able, even if it takes an­other five or 10 years.

And yet, when I ex­clu­sively in­ter­viewed two mem­bers of the Baker com­mis­sion two weeks ago they ex­plic­itly told me that they didn’t pro­pose in­creased troops strength be­cause their mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers told them it wasn’t cur­rently avail­able.

Well, in 1943 we didn’t have the troop strength for D-Day in 1944, and in 1863 we didn’t have the troop strength (or the strate­gies) for the vic­tory of 1865. But we had enough to hold on un­til the troops could be re­cruited and trained (and win­ning strate­gies de­vel­oped). And so we do to­day. I have been told by re­li­able mil­i­tary ex­perts that we can in­tro­duce up­ward of 50,000 com­bat troops promptly — enough to hold on un­til more help can be on the way.

Some­times, cur­rent tac­ti­cal lo­gis­ti­cal weak­nesses must not be used as an ex­cuse for, or a sig­nal of, strate­gic fail­ure. In 1861 newly elected Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln faced such a dilemma over the siege of Fort Sumter. Lin­coln had de­cided to ig­nore his mil­i­tary ad­vice to sur­ren­der the fort. While the fi­nal pub­lished ver­sion of his ex­pla­na­tion for this de­ci­sion in his July 4, 1861 Mes­sage to Congress did not re­flect his per­sonal anx­i­ety in com­ing to that de­ci­sion, it might be use­ful to Mr. Bush to read Lin­coln’s first, un­pub­lished, draft — which did re­flect his men­tal an­guish as he tried to de­cide. All his mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers, af­ter due con­sid­er­a­tion, be­lieved that Fort Sumter had to be evac­u­ated. But Lin­coln’s first draft read:

“In a purely mil­i­tary point of view, this re­duced the duty of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, in this case, to the mere mat­ter of get­ting the gar­ri­son safely out of the Fort — In fact, Gen­eral Scott ad­vised that this should be done at once — I be­lieved, how­ever, that to do so would be ut­terly ru­inous — that the ne­ces­sity un­der which it was to be done, would not be fully un­der­stood — that, by many, it would be con­strued as a part of a vol­un­tary pol­icy — that at home, it would dis­cour­age the friends of the Union, em­bolden it’s foes, and in­sure to the lat­ter a recog­ni­tion of in­de­pen­dence abroad — that, in fact, it would be our na­tional de­struc­tion con­sum­mated. I hes­i­tated.” (See “Lin­coln’s Sword,” pp 79-80; by Douglas Wil­son.)

Lin­coln was alone in the self­same rooms now oc­cu­pied by Ge­orge W. Bush. All his cabi­net and all his mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers had coun­seled a path Lin­coln thought would lead to dis­as­ter. He was only a month in of­fice and judged by most of Wash­ing­ton — in­clud­ing much of his cabi­net — to be a coun­try bump­kin who was out of his league, an ac­ci­den­tal pres­i­dent. Alone, and against all ad­vice he made the right de­ci­sion — as he would do con­stantly un­til vic­tory.

Mr. Pres­i­dent, you are not alone. The ghost of Old Abe is on your shoul­der.

God Bless you and Merry Christ­mas.

Tony Blank­ley is edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached via e-mail at tblank­ley@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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