President Bush has, to use his favorite phrase, "played his cards." Now we'll see what happens.
I'm filing this column with ten hours to go in Bush's 48-hour deadline. No matter what is happening when you read this, the questions raised are important.
Bush has put his political future on the line. Despite what Bush may think or what his close circle of friends may tell him, the worries in the U.S. are about the economy, not Iraq.
In his nationally syndicated column, Paul Craig Roberts writes that Bush, in his eagerness to sell the war at home and to our allies, used forged documents to make his case that Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons. Roberts speculates that this breach, which the FBI has been asked to investigate, could lead to impeachment charges.
Whether or not Bush is impeached, how can he be re-elected? No incumbent in American history has survived such a dismal economy.
Among the announced candidates, Bush would definitely beat New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton, former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, retired Army general Wesley Clark and former U.S. Senator Gary Hart. The others—whether seasoned Washington D.C. politicians like Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman or John Kerry or relative newcomers like John Edwards and Howard Dean—would be vigorous challengers in this era of Iraq, $2.50 gasoline and soaring unemployment.
If Bush ran against Gore today, the former Vice President could muster up enough votes in Tennessee, West Virginia or Florida to put him over the top.
Could Bush beat Hillary Clinton? That's an interesting question. Clinton has denied any interest in 2004. But with Bush more vulnerable with every passing day, who's to say that Clinton wouldn't change her mind?
In some circles, Hillary and Bill Clinton are thoroughly despised. And I am no fan either. But Clinton brings out the voters. And when President Clinton traveled abroad he was greeted like a rock star. Contrast that with how Bush is perceived overseas. The President of the United States is among the world's most hated men.
Bush, of whom I have been very skeptical since day one, frightens me. When I heard Bush say that the U.S. war against Iraq would be guided "by the hand of a just and faithful God," I wondered if Bush stopped to think how those words might sound in the non-Christian world.
Bush's ended his Monday night ultimatum speech with an ill advised "May God continue to bless America." While references to God are common in presidential history, they are red flags in a war against fundamentalist Muslim terrorists.
For a hard look at what we face in Iraq, read the Sunday March 16 New York Times "Week in Review" section article by Thomas Powers titled "The Man Who Would Be President of Iraq."
Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose other important books include a collection of essays "Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al Queda," asks questions that have been conspicuously missing from Bush's dialogue about Iraq.
If and when Saddam Hussein is killed, captured or exiled, 70 years of Iraqi independence will end with his demise. At that moment, write Powers, "political authority will pass into the hands of George W. Bush and Western rule will be planted on Arab soil for the first time since the French and British left the region in the middle of the last century."
Describing this event as "a dramatic expansion of President Bush's job description," Powers poses the obvious questions: "What happens then?"
First, the fate of 23 million Iraqi people, its oil and its relations with its neighbors will be the sole responsibility of Bush and all the presidents who follow Bush as President.
Bush will have carte blanche to rebuild Iraq according to his own view of how the country should be run. And while the White House promises that Bush will be nothing but generous in his reconstruction plans, Powers points out that recent experiences in Kosovo and Afghanistan indicate that America has had no success real ending ancient disputes in poor countries torn by religious and ethnic hatreds.
Therefore, the Pentagon admits troops, probably at least 200,000, will "stay as long as necessary"—a minimum of two years—and "leave as soon as possible"—maybe as long as five years before power in Iraq could be handed over to a new government.
Bush refuses to speculate about what the costs of long-term involvement in Iraq may be. He is fond of saying that staying the course in Iraq will be cheaper than the alternative.
But our economy is dead as a doornail and budget deficits are skyrocketing. Bush owes Americans more candor than he has given us.
Bush's mission in Iraq is iffy.
If war has started when you read this, I'll wager the points in my column haven't been addressed.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.