...it's safe to bet that Bush will be forever handcuffed to the bottom rungs of the presidential ladder.While I think Mr Brinkly gets a number of things wrong I think he is right about what will keep Dubya at the bottom of the presidential heap. Bush 43 bet his entire presidency on the invasion of Iraq and lost.
The problem for Bush is that certitude is only a virtue if the policy enacted is proven correct. Most Americans applaud Truman's dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they achieved the desired effect: Japan surrendered. Reagan's anti-communist zeal -- including increased defense budgets and Star Wars -- is only now perceived as positive because the Soviet Union started to unravel on his watch.As sad as it might be the president can lie us into war and become a great president - if they win the war. Nearly everyone now agrees that the Bush administration lied about the dangers of an Iraq ruled by Saddam. A growing majority now realize that there is no way the US can get anything that even vaguely resembles a win in Iraq. We can argue about if there was ever a possibility of a good outcome, I don't think there was, or if it was loss because of gross incompetence on the part of those waging the war. But a costly loss it will be. Bush bet his legacy on that war and he lost it all.
Nobody has accused Bush of flinching. After 9/11, he decided to circumvent the United Nations and declare war on Iraq. The principal pretext was that Baghdad supposedly was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. From the get-go, the Iraq war was a matter of choice. Call it Mr. Bush's War. Like a high-stakes poker player pushing in all his chips on one hand, he bet the credibility of the United States on the notion that Sunnis and Shiites wanted democracy, just like the Poles and the Czechs during the Cold War.
Bush wasn't operating in a historical bubble. Other presidents had gambled on wars of choice and won. James K. Polk, for example, begged Gen. Zachary Taylor to start a border war with Mexico along the Rio Grande. An ardent expansionist, he wanted to annex land in what are now Arizona, California and New Mexico. Nearly half of the American population in 1846 screamed foul, including Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes for an unjust war. Yet in short order, Polk achieved his land-grab objective with a string of stunning military successes. Mr. Polk's War was a success, even if the pretext was immoral. On virtually every presidential rating poll, Polk is deemed a "near great" president.
Half a century later, William McKinley also launched a war of choice based on the bogus notion that the USS Maine, anchored in Cuba, had been sabotaged by Spain. The Maine, in truth, was crippled by a boiler explosion. An imperialist, McKinley used the Maine as a pretext to fight Spain in the Caribbean and in the Philippines. A group of anti-imperialists led by Mark Twain and William James, among others, vehemently objected, rightfully accusing McKinley of warmongering. But McKinley had the last word in what his secretary of state, John Hay, deemed "a splendid little war." In just six months, McKinley had achieved his objectives. History chalks up Mr. McKinley's War as a U.S. win, and he also polls favorably as a "near great" president.
Mr. Bush's War, by contrast, has not gone well. When you don't achieve a stealth-like victory in a war of choice, then you're seen as being stuck in a quagmire. Already the United States has fought longer in the Iraq war than in World War II. As the death toll continues to rise, more and more Americans are objecting. The pending Democratic takeover of Congress is only one manifestation of the spiraling disapproval of Bush.