So, you really can't fool all the people all the time. George W. came close, getting high marks for his "war against terrorism" and for being a "war president," even though in Iraq he ended up fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Yet despite Bush's claim again last week that occupied Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror," the grim consequences of this colonial-style adventure have finally gotten through to an electorate that understandably invested a huge amount of trust in him after 9/11.
Though Bush's approval ratings have been falling steadily, they remained high in the areas of national security and Iraq. But no more. Polls now show that only a minority of Americans think that his handling of terrorism is good, or are "proud" of the U.S. role in Iraq.
It's about time. With the U.S. military bogged down in Iraq, and Afghanistan still a chaotic terrorist breeding ground overrun by warlords, we are being warned that Al Qaeda is as big a threat as ever, with recruitment booming and major attacks possibly planned for this summer.
All this despite Congress writing a blank check for $200 billion and additional expenditures — mostly for the Iraq war. This inevitably means, as an internal White House budget memo leaked to the Washington Post last week acknowledges, an impending cut across the board in 2006 funding of domestic programs such as education and even for the Department of Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, the United States has moved away from its historical posture as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with Bush abandoning a peace effort that goes back four administrations and even his own much-trumpeted "road map" to peace. Many supporters of Israel are critical of Bush's ill-conceived invasion of Iraq and his embrace of fellow preemptive warrior Ariel Sharon.
"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," said retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, "that the road to [peace in] Jerusalem led through Baghdad, when just the opposite is true, the road to Baghdad led through Jerusalem." These remarks from the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East were part of his comprehensive analysis of why the Iraq invasion was doomed to failure from the beginning, based as it was on lies, false premises, poor planning and a disregard for the history of the region.
For those who argued that Bush's reckless use of military violence was defensible to protect human rights comes a rebuke in Amnesty International's cover letter to its 2004 annual report: "The global security agenda promulgated by the U.S. administration is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle. Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using preemptive military force where and when it chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty."
Even the once-cocky neoconservative intellectuals who pushed so hard for this war for a decade — and who are now enraged that their darling Ahmad Chalabi is being called to account — are suddenly abandoning ship like rats, claiming the Bush administration ruined their beautiful vision with its incompetence. "I would be the first to acknowledge we allowed the liberation [of Iraq] to subside into an occupation," longtime invasion booster Richard Perle said last week.
Oops! Too bad, we rolled craps and now more than 800 young Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead. We tortured detainees, lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and gave Western democracy a huge black eye by showing how easy it was for a self-aggrandizing "war president" to hoodwink Congress and the people. One of those who was fooled was Sen. John Kerry. It is high time he showed some real, from-the-gut, anger over a president who so shamelessly led him and the nation astray. The public is onto Bush, but Kerry has to provide it an alternative by exposing the lies and deceptions that have weakened our country.
Robert Scheer writes a weekly column for The Times and is coauthor of "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq" (Seven Stories Press/Akashic Books, 2003).
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times