- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

President George W. Bush will predictably wave the liberation of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein as campaign trophies during his re-election bid. His father and presidential predecessor, colloquially styled Bush 41, similarly trumpeted the foil of Saddam’s aggression against Kuwait as proof of his presidential stature and national security savvy.

But the trumpeting availed nothing. William Jefferson Clinton defeated Bush 41 in 1992. Further, his neglect to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s wretchedness and treacherous summoning of the Kurds and Shi’ites to revolt facilitated the national security danger that propelled Bush 43 to war.

The incumbent’s comparable irresolution over governing post-Saddam Iraq may correspondingly prove a fatal electoral albatross. As George Santayana pontificated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, war has proven more a liability than a political bonanza for incumbent presidents. James Madison fell into disfavor during the War of 1812 with the British. The Mexican-American War created rivals and enmities for James K. Polk. The aftermath of World War I, including the Treaty of Versailles, destroyed the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The indecisiveness of the Korean War punctured the re-election chances of Harry Truman. And the Vietnam War was Lyndon B. Johnson’s Waterloo.

In contrast, only two wartime presidents, William McKinley in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in World War II, politically profited from the conflicts. (Abraham Lincoln is a special case because during the Civil War the Confederate States cast no electoral votes).

The vicissitudes of war and politics teach the foolhardiness of believing Bush 43 should begin victory laps because Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan, Iraq was liberated, and the war against global terrorism continues unabated. Even Winston Churchill, the last lion boasting unsurpassed wartime brilliance, lost the prime ministry to the lackluster Clement Atlee shortly after the surrender of Nazi Germany.

Last November, President George W. Bush designated June 30, 2004, as an irrevocable date for dissolving the Coalition Provisional Authority and yielding sovereignty to an indigenous Iraqi government. That date was informed by presidential politics, not the viability of the supersonic transition. Mr. Bush apparently believed that what would be decisive for a majority of voters about Iraq on Nov. 2 would be the absence of ongoing American casualties. The president speculated voters would be indifferent as to whether the June 30 departure date gave birth to an Iraq convulsed by ethnic and religious enmities and the intervention of Turkey to forestall the establishment of a de facto Kurdish state.

That calamity seems ineluctable if June 30 sticks. The Kurds in the north are vowing to fight for virtual separate state, including a militia to guard borders and a capital in oil-rich Kirkut. Clashes have already erupted there between Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs. Turkey, which recently acceded to a U.S. base at Incirlik, would be inclined to intercede to thwart a Kurdish state. It fears a re-infection of its citizens featuring Kurdish ancestry who are concentrated in the southeast with terrorist-secessionist impulses. Shi’ite ayatollahs, imams and mullahs are demanding popular elections for an interim government that Shi’ites would assuredly dominate. They further are clamoring for the Holy Koran as the North star for laws and judicial decisions.

Last December, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council voted to displace secular law with Shari’a to govern domestic relations. The goal: to deny equal rights and dignity to women. The consensus among politically uncompromised experts is that the inflexible June 30 transition deadline will plunge Iraq into political and economic chaos.

That impending ruination will create worrisome electoral problems for Mr. Bush. Detractors will argue the Iraqi war wasted more than 500 American lives for little or nothing. Weapons of mass destruction were not discovered. The first potential Arab-Islamic democracy in the Middle East was sacrificed to President Bush’s personal ambitions. His ready abandonment of the Iraqi people, reminiscent of Bush 41 after the Persian Gulf war, will embolden the likes of North Korea, Iran’s regime of mullahs, al Qaeda, and international terrorist wretches generally.

Bush 43, it will be said, has signaled to the world the United States projects no staying power and can be defeated by Fabian tactics. He withdrew the country from the ongoing battle between civilization and barbarism. Iraq itself could become a cradle for terrorist organizations, preparing the way for a second edition of September 11, 2001, under a future presidency — maybe that of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The June 30 withdrawal will excite Mr. Bush’s neo-isolationist wing. But the nation’s uncertain trumpet will dismay the president’s conservative supporters who believe in spreading American values abroad to promote national security and human rights. That conservative base may declare neutrality in the 2004 presidential race to voice their disgruntlement with Mr. Bush’s semi-surrender in Iraq.

In sum, his fixation on a June 30 withdrawal date may spawn a dreaded October surprise.

Bruce Fein is an international consultant and constitutional lawyer at Fein & Fein.

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