Foreign policy: President Bush and the season of failures

Confessions of a dangerous mind

While President Bush has enjoyed relative success on Iraq after months of frustration, he has suffered defeat after defeat on the home front. The relatively peaceful elections in Iraq with significant participation of Sunnis has now given some credence to President Bush’s insistent claim that eventually democracy will triumph in Iraq.

President Bush has succeeded in reversing the public opinion on Iraq. After nearly six months once again American support for continued US presence in Iraq � albeit under revised circumstances � has risen over 50%. Today Americans recognize the spurious justification for the war but support the goal to establish democracy in Iraq and hence support troops in Iraq.

Only time will tell what impact the current elections will have on the Iraqi insurgency. Sunni participation in politics must bear fruit for the support for insurgency to diminish. Sunni politicians campaigned on the triple negative agenda � anti-US, anti-Shii and anti-Constitution. It is difficult to expect them to either win an early US withdrawal, or reduce the growing political power of the Shii or even have a systematic rewriting of the constitution. Unless the Sunni politicians transform their political goals, they will see little political success and that could sustain and even energize the insurgency.

But that is the end of good news for the Bush administration.

A week before Christmas, he has suffered two significant defeats on the home front of the so-called war on terror. First he was forced to surrender to his old nemesis, Senator John McCain, and drop his opposition to the proposed senate ban on torture. President Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney had tried hard to prevent the US senate from banning torture completely. They were seeking exemption for the CIA and the President had even threatened to veto the bill.

But he was forced to capitulate on torture and this failure to preserve the option to torture must come as a major moral defeat for President Bush. By the way, the strong opposition of the Bush administration to the ban on torture makes one wonder if the shame of Abu Ghraib was not authorized at the highest levels after all.

The second major defeat for the Bush administration came through the rejection by a bipartisan Senate to reauthorize the Patriot Act, the infamous law that has subverted habeas corpus and undermines other constitutional protections such as privacy and the right to a fair trial.

The senate took this remarkable step after revelations that President Bush had ordered the surveillance of thousands of American citizens without the necessary approval of a court order. Many senators correctly recognized this abuse of power and refused to reauthorize the Patriot Act that essentially demands that citizens and Congress implicitly trust the executive branch to conduct itself in accordance with the constitution free of oversight

The pre-holiday season has been remarkable. The President has made two confessions, which are egregiously inconsistent with his now well-established style of leadership. The Bush administration’s signature style has been its supreme self-confidence marked by a hubristic refusal to acknowledge any mistakes ever. A comical and even astonishing manifestation of this characteristic had been Dick Cheney’s insistence well into 2005, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

But in recent days President Bush has made two acknowledgements, one with humility and another with bravado.

First, he finally acknowledged that the intelligence on Iraq was grossly incorrect but also defended that his decision to wage war in Iraq was valid. I found this confession rather amusing. He finally came out and accepted that there is no correlation between intelligence and policy under his watch. When the intelligence about Iraq was assumed to be right the decision to go to war was deemed right. Now that we know that the intelligence was dead wrong, the decision based on that dead wrong data apparently is still right. Conclusion: intelligence does not determine or shape policy.

His second confession was surprising. He confessed that he authorized the violation of US laws repeatedly by ordering the intelligence community to spy on US citizens without court permission. He is claiming that his responsibility to protect Americans gives him the prerogative to authorize such actions.

This confession must have come as a relief to the torture experts in the CIA who must have been looking for new jobs after the Senate ban on torture.

There was one more thing… Harriet Myers, social security reform, public diplomacy, Iran… never mind, I forgot.

M. A. Muqtedar Khan is Assistant Professor in the department of political science and International Relations at University of Delaware. He is also a non-residient fellow at the Brookings Institution. His website is

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