Monday, March 06, 2006

Iran and Presidential Popularity

RealClearPolitics has a few excellent pieces here and here on the Administration's position on Iran. And notwithstanding the very harsh remarks I leveled last week against the Administration and their subpar communications department, they seem to play their cards very wisely when it comes to a showdown.

Which brings me back the issue if Presidential popularity and a chicken and egg question.

Bush has allowed himself to take a pummelling on Iraq. An unnecessary pummelling, because there is positive news to report, positive progress overall, but it's his job to make sure that it gets reported. Now he is taking us again to the brink with Iraq's neighbor, Iran, and promises military action if Iran doesn't let go of it's nuclear program. And we're not "alone" on this one as the left claims we were on Iraq. But does the President's popularity need to be something more than it is in order to have the support to maintain an engagement with Iran, or will such an engagement be just the thing his poll numbers need, thereby breathing new life into the Administration?

Hard call. If Iran is simply a couple of JSOWs and a wrecked nuclear program with a livid but now flaccid Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it's a success. If it turns into a popular uprising that overthrows the theocracy, and turns into a democratic state on its own, it will go down as Bush's finest hour. And that's by no means out of the question. The Iranians are significantly more educated and more hungry for self-rule than their neighbors in Iraq ever were. If there is anyplace that democracy is yearning to flourish, it's there. Because the Mullahs are not a popular government, nor is Mahmoud the Mouth an adored figure. And perhaps a moronic extremist and terrorist like Ahmadinejad is just what the Iranians needed to wake up and decide that they would like to be a respected member of the world.

But if it involves another hard slog that requires patience and perseverance by the American people, I can't see Bush with the support to pull it off, nor can I see support for it lasting anywhere near the length of time it takes to actually achieve the mission's stated goals.

There really is no turning back at this point. Either Iran surrenders or it doesn't. And if the U.S. backs down, it will be all the more provocative to regimes like that of Iran and North Korea who will realize that the U.S. has reached its limit on international engagements. So this will have a discernible termination point. The only question is whether it involves an embarrassment for the Iranian government by diplomatic or military means.

And then the biggest issue is what falls from that. Will they embargo oil shipments? Not likely, as they need to eat as well, and an act of emotional bitterness will harm them more than us. But perhaps economics won't figure in. Perhaps this crackpot government will indeed make such a self-destructive decision.

And if it does, what does that mean for Bush and his ability to have the public behind his leadership?

So far, very little. Bush continues to lead, showing no signs of any fatigue caused by low polls. He doesn't believe in the lame duck presidency. Certainly a president is no lame duck with the winds of popular opinion to his back, but that's different if he can't get them behind him on national security if the burdens of it become too heavy over too short a time.

Make no mistake, the President is doing the right thing by working to pacify Iraq and by standing up to Iran, irrespective of the things with which Iran may threaten us. My only fear is that the potential costs in opening up another front with Iran (higher energy prices, and possibly another lengthy military engagement) may be more than the American people are willing to support, with a media and entertainment industry doing their best to hamper our efforts at national security, and folks like John Murtha, in true John Kerry fashion, never missing an opportunity to talk down the armed forces in which he once served, knowing that his efforts are aiding the enemy and putting our own soldiers in danger.

Perhaps the next front he needs to open up is the one on the people who purport to open the news. Because good things don't happen when you allow your ideological opponents to cast your successes as defeats. And we've had enough of that.

Let's hope for the sake of his very positive and bold agenda that President Bush has as well. Our long-term security depends on it.

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