FOR ALL of the Republican efforts to call John Kerry a flip-flopper, President Bush is flopping like a fish trying to escape being netted. Five days ago Bush admitted to The New York Times that he made a "miscalculation" about the violence in Iraq. Two days ago Bush admitted that his war on terror cannot actually be won.
Bush was asked by NBC's Matt Lauer, "Do you really think we can win this war on terror . . . in the next four years?" Bush replied, "I have never said we can win it in four years."
Lauer said, "No, I'm just saying, can we win it?"
Bush said, "I don't think you can win it, but I think you can create conditions so that . . . those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world, let's put it that way."
But Bush knew there was no way he could put it that way yesterday at the national convention of the American Legion in Nashville. He could not possibly tell generations of soldiers who risked their lives for freedom that we are now mired in a miscalculation. So Bush went into overdrive to erase the sudden lapse and return to his role as the most absolutely sure man on the planet that victory will be ours.
At one point Bush told the convention of war veterans, "We meet today in a time of war for our country, a war we did not start yet one that we will win." At another juncture, Bush said: "In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table. But make no mistake about it, we are winning, and we will win."
After loud applause, Bush added: "We will win by staying on the offensive. We will win by spreading liberty."
We have a live one here. Bush arrives at the GOP convention wriggling with fear of being hauled out of the White House by Americans weary of his exaggerations and miscalculations. It was perfectly appropriate for him to say, in the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, "Make no mistake about it, we're going after them all. And we'll win. We're going to win." Few had a reason to question this resolute posture of strength. Bush maintained this posture on the announcement of his far more controversial invasion of Iraq. "I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half-hearted measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory," Bush said.
With the outcome still uncertain, the Republicans are now applying as much paint thinner as possible to their convention, trying to strip away the history of the invasion without also exposing the administration for its series of mindless measures. By the speeches so far, they have decided to live or die on the hope that Kerry will flop before the voters flip out over Bush's shifting rationales for invading Iraq and his altered meanings of victory in the war on terror.
On the convention's opening night, John McCain, once a thorn in Bush's side, told the crowd at Madison Square Garden that it did not matter that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. He said Bush chose war over a "graver threat." He said that whether or not Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, "he would have acquired them again."
New York's former mayor Rudolph Giuliani used horrific memories of the destruction of the World Trade Center to praise Bush's "rock solid" decision to go on the "offense" against terrorism. Buoyed by such words, Bush roared into the American Legion convention with McCain at his side, saying, "Knowing what I know today, I would have taken the same action."
Should bombs and snipers continue to take out US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the voters may take their own, decisive action. Bush is back to saying "we will win." The more he says it without proof of victory, the more likely it is that he will be the loser on Election Day.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.