When you think about the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson most people don't think about the Voting Rights Act, or Johnson's dedication to helping the poor and promoting civil rights. We think of Vietnam. Though a boy, I couldn't help but notice the sadness in his heart at the end of his Presidency. Which is one reason I can't help but wondering what's going through the mind of George Walker Bush right now. His presidency is waning and he can't help but think about his legacy. I can't help but think what he is tasting now are ashes.
He came to us promising to be a 'uniter', a pragmatic president who would restore integrity to the White House. He promised to build us a new Middle East. Under his leadership conservatives began to talk of 'permanent realignment' where ideological conservatives would dominate American politics for the foreseeable future.
That's what made his admission last week that New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman might be right when he compared the two-month old Operation Together Forward in Baghdad to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. American Generals have expressed great disappointment in the outcome of the operation, mostly because Iraqi government and military units supposed to support the effort have acted half-heartedly when they were not actively sabotaging American efforts.
Tet is generally regarded as the turning point of the Vietnam war which led to America's disengagement and eventual defeat there. There are enormous differences between the two: Tet was Viet Cong offensive while Together Forward was intended to re-establish law and put down the sectarian violence tearing Iraq apart. Tet was a military disaster for the VC, as it essentially gutted their main force units to the point where no VC units above the company level were ever encountered again. Together Forward was going to reintroduce order and reduce growing level of violence in Baghdad. But both have cracked upon brittle political support for a war and made even it's supporters into doubters. The operation's apparent failure comes at the same time as the National Intelligence Estimate which showed that far from discouraging jihadists, our military efforts in Iraq have increased their numbers many fold, that the Taleban is resurgent in Afghanistan,, that despite U.S tough talk Iran and North Korea are more belligerent than ever, with North Korea even detonating a nuclear weapon.
Instead of building 'permanent majority' for Republicans Bush sees his party facing real defeat in the fall with many previously safe seats at risk. Under his leadership America is losing influence and has become the world's most unpopular nation. Americans are more divided than ever, and the left has become emboldened. The once-docile press is pressing him hard, and formerly intimidated opponents have recently released an TV ad where people ask a bush what happened to their health care and other issues. The ad then suggests that talking to our President is no different than talking to a plant.
In short, everything he hoped to have accomplished is crumbling. Bush is no stranger to failure, and I wonder if this was how it felt when he realized Arbusto Oil would soon fail. He must sense his failures pressing against him. No more can he dream of being compared to Lincoln or Roosevelt, but rather to Herbert Hoover, James Buchannan and Warren G. Harding. In fact, he may become the standard of ineptitude against which all presidents are compared.
In the Bible it says "Pride cometh before the fall." In public Mr. Bush says that we will move forward, that we will win, that America is heading in the right direction. But his little slip about Tet makes me think that inside even he no longer believes , and that at night even he too feels the abyss he has led America into.