Smug President Has Painted U.S. Into a Corner

The sun’s o’ercast with blood; fair day, adieu!

Which is the side that I must go withal?

I am with both: each army hath a hand;

And in their rage, I having hold of both,

They whirl asunder and dismember me.

-Shakespeare, King John

As the nation slouches toward war, the sentries of our democracy are whirling asunder and threatening to dismember their nation. On one hand, a callow and blustering President has assured us that his goal is right by confusing the despot in Iraq and the atrocities of 9/11. On the other hand, those political leaders who oppose going to war have failed through a shockingly craven silence that seems strange and almost calculated; never have opponents of a war seemed so lame and dumbstruck, almost as though they were watching an engineer drive a locomotive right into the side of a building.

Many politicians in their hearts, and at their dinner tables, call the war a folly, a potential disaster; their courage on the street is nil. “This chamber is hauntingly silent,” Senator Robert Byrd told the Senate last month. “We are sleepwalking through history.” Meanwhile, the playing field is controlled by a blustering, bullying President who-though truly committed-seems to have regressed to his Yale persona of male cheerleader at a grim pep rally, exhorting through fear and intimidation. As he said last week, “We don’t need anyone’s permission.”

The callow, smug, inarticulate man who was the lead player in a farce called “White House News Conference” gave us no new reasons to go to war, no sense of the dangers involved and no confidence in his leadership. The television appearance itself-more a blustering tape loop than exchange with the press-could only be called a national disgrace; President George W. Bush’s performance in front of a docile collection of game-show hosts posing as reporters ought to frighten all of us. We live in terrible times, dangerous times, and all this man can do is mouth platitudes and assertions put on his podium cards by his war-crazed handlers. Eight times he interchanged the war on Iraq with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and eight times he was unchallenged.

Amazingly, in the immediate aftermath of the President’s disgraceful performance, news outlets described him as “solemn” and “determined.” These pieces must have been put together before the President actually spoke, because there was nothing solemn or determined about him; “clueless” and “lost” would have been closer.

It is astonishing that this mediocre President apparently has cowed the alleged opposition party, the Democrats, into reticence, as the elected officials who usually rush for the mascara for Sunday-morning talk shows have been hiding under Washington toadstools. Meanwhile, a New York Times –CBS poll showed the disgust of Americans at their elected officials: 66 percent of Democrats agreed with Senator Byrd and said the House and Senate had not done enough to challenge President Bush on the war, as did 48 percent of the country. Save for a few dissenting voices, like Senator Byrd and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the pusillanimous and calculating Democrats have rolled over in the face of the administration’s monolithic push.

Meanwhile, New York’s two Senators have acquiesced to his war policy; both Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Hillary Clinton have expressed their support. Do they know something we don’t? Is there compelling intelligence that they have not shared with us? If there is, this is the time to let us know. Their responsibility is to inform their constituents, even as Mr. Bush continues to make accusations that neither the U.N. inspectors nor even our own intelligence seems to back up.

Somehow, the Bush administration’s cowboys have done the unthinkable. They have alienated friends, ruined international relationships, squandered the good will and sympathy that the Sept. 11 atrocities inspired, and turned America into a global villain. All of this, while Saddam Hussein smiles and watches the world turn in his favor, inheriting the gusts of international opinion that Mr. Bush has mind-bogglingly forfeited. Rarely in modern times has such a blundering swap taken place. A poll in an Irish newspaper recently found that the majority of respondents in that America-friendly country believed that George Bush was a bigger threat to peace than Saddam. It is not just those perfumed pansies in Paris who are alarmed by our behavior. Somehow Mr. Bush has contrived to have people the world over see this nation-the nation that created the Marshall Plan and ended the Cold War-as an international menace on matters of security, on the environment, on justice and on fair trade.

With its Reagan-era bluster and frat-house machismo, the Bush administration has played into the hands of terrorists, breaking apart NATO and fracturing half-century-old relations with Europe that have persevered through all the roilings of post–World War II history. And the administration did it at just the very moment when the West has been targeted-not by that wretched despot Saddam, but by the murderous followers of Osama bin Laden. Thanks to the President and his hubristic crew of ideologues, America and Europe are not united, as they should be, in the face of global Islamic militancy. Instead, many people talk about the end of America’s strategic alliance with Western Europe. Instead of France and Germany, some say, we will simply align ourselves with the post-Communist states of Eastern Europe-like, say, Bulgaria.

Osama bin Laden did not create this sad state of affairs. George W. Bush did.

Rarely in the face of war has the leadership in this country-both the executive and the opposition-served it so badly. The opposition has cynically acquiesced; they have not challenged this intellectually challenged President. There are, as Thomas Friedman has pointed out so eloquently in The New York Times , many merits to the argument for the war; the President has not made them. Mr. Bush, having painted himself into a diplomatic corner unlike any in American history, has created rationales for attack that are less in the tradition of American war Presidents like Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, even Bush Sr., and more in the tradition of William McKinley as he bumbled his way into the Spanish-American war.

These are hyperbolic and misinformed times. So it was hardly surprising to hear a television commentator report, just before the President’s press conference, that Mr. Bush was not expected to use the opportunity to declare war on Iraq. It did not occur to the reporter-any more than it has to Mr. Bush and his bunch of crusaders-that no President has ever declared war, because no President has ever had that power. Congress declares war; it’s in the Constitution. Yes, Congress-that reviled collection of the people’s representatives-declares war in this Republic. Why? The Founders understood that the power to declare war was so awesome and so serious that it should not be one person’s decision. The test of this nation at this moment may not be creating democracy in Iraq; it may be in reacquainting the American people and their institutions and President with the glory and responsibility of American democracy itself.

The Bush Economy In a Tailspin

It’s hard to believe, but there is one area of Presidential business which George W. Bush has arguably screwed up as badly as foreign affairs. We’re talking about the economy. While most Americans have a peripheral awareness that the President is pushing a large tax cut which benefits mostly the wealthy, few have grasped the true consequences of Mr. Bush’s foolish and unsound economic policy. There aren’t hundreds of thousands of protesters marching in the streets about this issue, but maybe there should be. If Mr. Bush is making scoundrels out of Americans in the world’s eyes, he’s making morons out of us here at home.

Rather than worrying about what Saddam Hussein is up to, maybe we should be worrying about where people around the world are putting their money. Foreign investment in the U.S. is down 85 percent since 2000, from $300 billion to just $46 billion. And that’s before Mr. Bush sends American troops into Baghdad. The tumbling foreign investment is coupled with a sharp decline in stock purchases by foreigners. Now when the U.S. needs money, anxious foreigners lend it to us instead of investing it in assets or shares. If the trend continues and foreign money keeps flooding out of this country, we’re in for big trouble.

Will foreigners continue to withdraw their money? Well, look at the dollar. One could say that the dollar is the most critical litmus test of world opinion about our economy and investments in the U.S. Since George W. Bush was elected, the dollar is down 15 percent against the euro, a loud signal that foreign investors have concluded the U.S. is not where they want to invest their capital. It’s foreign capital that has financed our economy for the past 20 years-stocks, bonds and real estate.

As a result of Mr. Bush’s clumsy economic stewardship and the potential cost of a war, the country is facing an economic debacle which threatens to flatten us. When Mr. Bush took office, the Congressional Budget Office forecast a 10-year surplus of $5.8 trillion. Now the country may be looking at a 10-year deficit of as much as $3 trillion. If that happens, it will send interest rates to the moon. It almost seems as if this country is being run like a banana republic. Last week, the Committee for Economic Development-a nonpartisan business group-urged the administration to initiate tax increases and spending cuts, warning that if the White House does not do so, “investment, productivity and living standards will suffer.” It won’t be long before the return of the “misery index,” that unsettling calculation of inflation plus unemployment-note that the U.S. has lost two million jobs since Mr. Bush was elected.

Our economy will be impacted for decades to come by this out-of-control fiscal policy, led by an administration that doesn’t appear to have a clue.

Smug President Has Painted U.S. Into a Corner