The Magazine

Bush's Bad Polls

Look no further than the war for an explanation.

May 8, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 32 • By FRANK CANNON and JEFFREY BELL
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President Bush has never ruled out the use of military force against this toxic regime. But all high officials on his second-term foreign-policy team--including his secretary of state, secretary of defense, national security adviser, and director of intelligence--act not just as if this is not under active consideration, but as if the very idea were absurd. They shrug off the simple reality, abundantly plain to the most casual American voter, that Iran is moving ahead with obtaining and (in the regime's own stated scenarios) disseminating nuclear weapons. They act as if our utter failure to deter Iran is less important than the fact that we are not being attacked as warmongers by France and Germany.

Their body language says that Iraq has tied our hands everywhere else. If that is true, then engaging in Iraq has in fact handcuffed the United States in a world war, and the Bush administration will not make a comeback in public opinion.

But if, as we believe, Bush and the majority of American voters are right--in their belief that Iraq is one front, important but not all-encompassing, of a much wider war--then a failure to act elsewhere will also deny the administration a comeback, because most Americans believe that acting elsewhere is possible, and may in certain grave circumstances be required.

The president's decision on who is right--those who would handcuff him because of Iraq, or those who believe a world war sometimes requires grave, unpleasant decisions on more than one front--will almost certainly determine the future of his presidency in the eyes of the American electorate as a whole.

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon are principals of Capital City Partners, a Washington consulting firm.