December 21, 2005
Ending 2005 in Upturn, Helped by Events, Enemies
President Bush has executed a positive turn-around in his political
fortunes through a combination of forceful advocacy, fortunate
events and help from his critics.
approval rating in polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com
bottomed out at 37 percent just prior to Veterans Day. Now, it's
44.8 percent-not great, but heading (for him) in the right direction.
seems to be attributable to his vigorous defense of his Iraq policy,
plus a decline in gasoline prices and favorable economic news
and evidence that Democrats are mired in defeatism about the war.
been aided by fading memories about the factors that depressed
his ratings in the first place--the Katrina hurricane, the indictment
of White House aide Lewis Libby and $3 a gallon gasoline.
televised "fireside chat" on Iraq Sunday, following
a successful election in that country last week, should permit
him to finish out 2005 at or just below his 48 percent RCP average
at the end of 2004, controversy over "domestic spying"
on terrorist targets notwithstanding.
some explaining to do about why he decided to skirt the law prohibiting
warrantless National Security Agency monitoring of domestic phone
calls rather than asking Congress to change it.
should conduct a wider inquiry into Bush's whole attitude toward
executive power. Does Bush agree with former Deputy Attorney Gen.
John Yoo's 2001 memo holding that no statute passed by Congress
"can place any limits on the president's determinations as
to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used
in response or the method, timing and nature of the response"?
In his press
conference Monday, Bush airly dismissed a question suggesting
that Bush believed he has "unchecked power" to fight
the war on terrorism. But there is a long record of such assertions,
limited only by the courts so far, to imprison and try enemy combatants
and even limit access to presidential records.
defensible to me to monitor the U.S. end of international calls
between terrorist suspects without a court order if time is crucial.
Bush is not tapping the phones of war protesters Cindy Sheehan
or Michael Moore, after all. But could he? The Yoo opinion suggests
he could do anything he likes in the name of fighting terrorism.
Congress should establish what limits, if any, the administration
But my guess
is that Bush will only gain popularity points as a result of the
wiretap disclosures and a Democrat-led filibuster of the Patriot
Act. To average Americans, he'll be seen as a "strong leader"
trying to defend them, rather than as a menace to civil liberties.
The filibusterers, in any event, have not made a case for their
definitely have helped Bush recover by calling the Iraq war unwinnable,
as party chairman Howard Dean did, and by recommending immediate
withdrawal of U.S. troops, as did Rep. John Murtha (Pa.) followed
by House leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
to the Dec. 15 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, voters oppose
immediate troop withdrawals by a margin of 68 percent to 27 percent.
to a Fox News poll released last week, voters disagree with Dean
by a margin of 51 percent to 38 percent and say, by 57 percent
to 12 per cent, that U.S. and Iraqi forces will prevail over insurgents.
released prior to Bush's Sunday "chat," showed that
only 25 percent of voters said they had a better understanding
of Bush's war policy after his first four speeches on the subject.
Fifty-seven percent said they did not.
On the other
hand, by 37 percent to 35 percent, they said they trusted Republicans
on the war over Democrats, a reversal of recent trends.
address was a concise and effective statement of his war aims,
combining rare expressions of humility with a stark description
of the stakes involved in the struggle, assurances that "we
are winning" and jabs at "defeatism."
In his four
earlier Iraq speeches beginning on Veterans Day, Bush acknowledged
that his administration had adjusted tactics in Iraq. But on Sunday
he went further, admiting that the aftermath of major combat operations
has been "more difficult than we expected."
was in the polling doldrums this summer, outsiders advised him
to shake up his administration and make a speech to the country
admitting errors. He didn't follow the first bit, but did the
second, in his own fashion.
he also argued his own case forcefully, all but silencing Democrats
who accused him of "lying" about pre-war intelligence
on weapons of mass destruction and rebutting charges that he has
"no strategy" for the war.
he spelled out a concise goal: "a democratic Iraq that can
defend itself, that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists
and that will serve as model of freedom for the Middle East."
has previously concentrated on the idealistic purpose of Middle
East democracy, he starkly spelled out the consequences of "pulling
out of Iraq before our work is done."
would abandon our Iraqi friends-and signal to the world that America
cannot be trusted to keep its word. We would undermine the morale
of our troops... Cause tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at
our failed resolve... Hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged
to attack us..." and make an emboldened world terrorist movement
more dangerous than ever.
retreat before victory," he said, "would be an act of
recklessness and dishonor-and I will not allow it."
A true surge
in Bush's popularity won't occur until he begins withdrawing troops
from Iraq in substantial numbers. A top U.S. official there told
me that was possible in 2006, but Bush reiterated that he won't
be bound by artificial timetables."Our forces in Iraq are
on the road to victory-and that is the road that will take them
home," he said.
bet his presidency-and his place in history-on a favorable outcome
in Iraq. Whether he ultimately succeeds or fails, it's clear he's
ending the first year of his second term determined to see the
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.