"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Bush finally realises he must change course on Iraq
The Sydney Morning Herald (AU)
By Michael Gawenda
January 2, 2006

THERE were two events during 2005 - a year of political pain for George Bush - that have become metaphors for a presidency that often seemed inept and plagued by hubris.

The first came in March when Mr Bush rushed back to Washington from his ranch in Texas to sign legislation passed at an extraordinary Saturday sitting of Congress, designed to force the federal courts to reconsider the case of Terri Schiavo. Ms Schiavo had been comatose for more than 15 years when a Miami court ordered that her feeding tube be removed.

Mr Bush's dramatic "mercy dash" to Washington was clearly designed to reward the conservative evangelical movement that many believed had helped secure his second term.

But the federal courts refused Republican demands to reopen the case, and Ms Schiavo died two weeks later.

Then came the polls, which surprised everyone, not least the Bush Administration officials who had been sure "saving" Terri Schiavo would be a huge political plus. All of them showed that about 80 per cent of Americans disapproved of the Government getting involved in what they said was a private family tragedy.

Five months later, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, breaching the levees, and the gulf coast of Mississippi.

It was to prove the biggest natural disaster in US history and the Bush Administration's bungled response to it was breathtaking in its ineptitude. The hurricane, which claimed more than 1400 lives, saw much of New Orleans destroyed and made hundreds of thousands of people homeless, shredded Mr Bush's image as a decisive leader at a time of crisis.

These were the most dramatic illustrations of an Administration that had prided itself on its political savvy becoming, almost overnight, an accident-prone, politically bumbling group, out of touch with the American people.

Other political stumbles, such as the ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court and the indictment of the key White House aide Lewis Libby on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the CIA leak affair, were set against the the continuing war in Iraq. And Iraq will again determine the political fortunes of the White House in 2006 as it will the results of the mid-term congressional elections in October.

There were signs towards the end of the year that Mr Bush and his advisers had, belatedly, realised that they had to change course, at least rhetorically, on Iraq if the trend of the polls was to be reversed.

In the two weeks leading up to the Iraq elections on December 15, Mr Bush embarked on a campaign to rebut the criticism of the Administration's policies in Iraq from leading Democrats and at the same time "level" with the American people about mistakes that had been made.

This was a big change for a president who had never before been able to admit to a mistake. White House staff had finally realised that the war "trumped" every other issue and that a far-reaching domestic agenda, including the privatisation of social security, was too ambitious at a time when the US was at war.

After the series of speeches and television appearances, Mr Bush's approval rating in most polls showed modest gains for the first time in months.

But if the US casualties continue to rise, if the insurgency remains as violent as ever and if there is no significant withdrawal of US forces from Iraq this year, no amount of brilliant rhetoric will do much good.

That's not to say the Democrats are in great shape. They are divided on Iraq.

But this still is Bush's war and he knows that his presidency will be judged by its outcome. One thing is clear: the State of the Union address on January 31 is unlikely to set an ambitious agenda for the year.

Progress in Iraq, steady economic growth and further cuts in government programs to rein in the budget deficit and fund the rebuilding of New Orleans will be the focus of the speech.

And of course there's the unforeseen event - another natural disaster, a terrorist attack - that would totally change the political dynamics of another year in which Iraq will almost certainly remain a preoccupation for America and for the world.

The Bush presidency will probably go down in history in flames because it governed by the polls. While Bush never cared what most Americans thought he governed to please his base (also called pandering). As soon as his base began to leave him on Iraq, he was forced to admit he's been wrong (from day one). Needless to say, the turning point was Congressman Murtha calling for withdrawal as soon as possible. Murtha speaks for the US military and when he said the war was lost, most informed people knew US military commanders told him the war was lost.