Jan 25 2007

President on the wane

Huntsville Times


Bush's Iraq plan gained little from Tuesday night's speech

President Bush's Tuesday night State of the Union address to the nation may have been the best he could do under the circumstances, but it wasn't very good - mostly because of those circumstances.

The president, now in the last two years of his final term, tried to turn the nation's attention away from the war in Iraq and on to domestic issues, namely health-insurance reform, energy conservation and immigration.

Indeed, he didn't deal with Iraq until the second half of his speech. That of itself was tacit acknowledgment that Iraq has become the depressing yardstick by which the entire Bush presidency is measured.

The president insists that his latest plan for Iraq - sending in 20,000 more troops to stabilize key areas - is the right plan. But he said that about previous plans, and he said it more than once.

Public support for the Iraq war, and consequently public support for Bush himself, has plummeted. Growing numbers of Democrats in Congress, as well as a slowly increasing number of Republicans, are not only unwilling to back Bush's latest strategy but are trying to find ways to thwart it.

That's almost unprecedented.

When a solid conservative such as Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby breaks with a conservative Republican president over an undeclared, but nonetheless real, war in which American troops are dying, Bush seemingly has little clout left.

There are no easy solutions on Iraq. In fact, there are no difficult solutions that seem to have a solid chance of working, either. Little wonder more and more Americans are deciding it's time to get out.

The cruel irony is this: Whether we go or whether we stay, the situation in Iraq seems doomed to worsen. More than 3,000 Americans have died in this long war, and by some estimates more than 34,000 Iraqis died in 2006 alone.

Republicans don't have the answer. Democrats don't have the answer. Our involvement in Iraq has become like a lobster pot - easy to get into, damnably difficult to get out of.

If there is a lesson here, it may be that America's military should never be employed to try to force a political solution in a place where history indicates the futility of political solutions. And the nation should never ask its men and women in uniform to fight and die in the cause of something beyond their control.

Stalemate ahead?

As for Bush's points on energy conservation and health insurance, the former has the correct goal but offers an inadequate way of achieving it. On health insurance, the public must try to decide if the president's plan to allow big deductions but to tax employer-paid benefits will help or hurt. In truth, it will do both, depending on the individual taxpayer's situation.

Immigration? Democrats like his plan for a guest-worker program. A lot of Republicans hate it.

Despite all the talk to the contrary, the nation may well be facing two years of stalemate. Democrats have the votes to block Bush - but not the votes to override him. Little wonder the attention of the media and much of the nation has shifted to the 2008 presidential campaign.

At the moment, hope for effective national government remains alive - but it is far from robust.