Saturday, May 26, 2007

Two of Washington’s best-informed men confirmed it so it must be true. President Bush and his consigliere Karl Rove bet on who had read the most books in a year. Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told friends Mr. Rove won with 117 books and Mr. Bush was a close second with 104 books.

Unhappy over his loss to his close confidant, Mr. Bush asked for a recount in words. And the president won by 1.7 percent. The story is not apocryphal. In fact, none other than Vice Adm. McConnell’s predecessor as the nation’s top spymaster, John Negroponte, now deputy secretary of state, confirmed it. The president, he explained, reads two to three books a week and does not watch television. Most of the books he reads are history and biographies of famous statesmen (and three stateswomen who took their countries to war the United Kingdom’s Margaret Thatcher, Israel’s Golda Meir and India’s Indira Gandhi).

Mr. Bush identifies with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and on the other side of the pond, Winston Churchill, all men of courage who did what was right when it was most difficult. These range from the order to obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed instantly 150,000 Japanese to avoid the loss of an estimated 1 million American lives in an invasion of Japan, to recognition of the state of Israel against the advice of World War II’s most prestigious military leader, Secretary of State George C. Marshall. And from the decision to repel North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, to firing the immensely popular Gen. Douglas MacArthur for openly disagreeing with the president, to Ronald Reagan’s defeat of the evil Soviet Empire, Mr. Bush sees his decision to invade Iraq in the same historical league.

President Bush showed a recent visitor a portrait of Lincoln to talk about the tremendous odds Lincoln encountered in his decision to wage the Civil War and free the slaves. Mr. Bush had done something roughly comparable in his decision to free 26 million Iraqi slaves from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.

Mr. Bush’s model for resisting and defeating Islamist extremism’s global campaign to restore the caliphate and destroy Christendom is Churchill. Isolated in the 1930s on the back benches of Parliament, his clarion calls for backbone against Adolf Hitler’s Europewide ambitions went unheeded until World War II broke out Sept. 1, 1939 and still didn’t get the draft to lead until the Nazi blitzkrieg in May 1940.

President Bush, with departure from power of Britain’s Tony Blair, now sees a parallel with Churchill who soldiered on alone until Japan’s December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor forced the U.S. into World War II. In Mr. Bush’s perspective, the mullahs’ Iran, the Iraq insurgency, al Qaeda, transnational terrorism, all add up to a mortal danger for Western civilization.

U.S. News & World Report, a national magazine with a circulation of 2 million, asked on its cover several weeks ago whether Mr. Bush was “Resolute or Delusional?”

The frequent comparisons to history’s greats are anything but delusional, his aides and confidants say off-line. He is, of course, stubborn and unyielding. And all are confident history will vindicate his bulldoggish tenacity. The self-described “Decider” is the antithesis of self-doubt. Like an old seadog, he relishes the idea of plowing into rough seas.

When a recent visitor asked him what assurance he could give about his successor in 2009, President Bush replied, “we’ll fix it so he’ll be locked in.” The visitor left perplexed and wondered whether that might mean the U.S. would be in a wider war in the region by then. In any event, it didn’t sound like twilight time for Mr. Bush.

A Texan friend of longstanding called on him recently and confided to his Washington hosts that Mr. Bush had said three times, bringing a clenched fist to his chest, “I’m the president.” Reminding visiting political opponents of this would be normal, but the close friend said he was a taken aback a bit as he had never before seen Mr. Bush in this mode.

Moderate Republicans, led by Sen. Chuck Hagel, former National Security Adviser (under George Bush the Elder) Brent Scowcroft, who weekends in Kennebunkport with President Bush’s father, Susan Eisenhower (President Eisenhower’s granddaughter), former Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead, and other prominent names are deeply concerned about 2008. Those who identified with the Republican Party in 2002 numbered 30 percent (vs. 31 percent Democrats). This year, Republicans are down to 25 percent (33 percent Democrats). And still dropping.

Discouraged Republicans have taken their concerns to the president. When they talked to their friends later that same week, they couldn’t find anything encouraging to say. To those who accuse him of not keeping his ear close enough to the ground in grass-roots America, he identifies with Churchill’s classic riposte: “I wonder what the British people would think of a leader caught in such an ungainly posture.”

According to Mr. Bush’s reading of history, for the United States of America, the world’s most powerful nation, to lose the war in Iraq would be tantamount to Churchill and the Royal Air Force losing the Battle of Britain in 1940. Hitler would have invaded a defenseless Britain. A then-defenseless America would have been within his evil grasp.

In the case of a U.S. defeat in Iraq, as Mr. Bush sees it, a nuclear-armed Iran and the forces of global obscurantism would become dominant in the Middle East. On the geopolitical chessboard, it wouldn’t be checkmate. But the Queen would be gone.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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