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From: Bart (129.171.32.13)
Subject:         Victory in name only
Date: December 30, 2005 at 8:53 am PST

Victory in name only

Empty talk of turning points has failed to stop Bush's election triumph being reduced to ashes

Sidney Blumenthal
Friday December 30, 2005
The Guardian

In his second inaugural address, George Bush four times summoned the image of fire - "a day of fire", "we have lit a fire", "fire in the minds of men", and "untamed fire". Over the course of the first year of his second term, all four of the ancient Greek elements have wreaked havoc: the fire of war, the air and water of Hurricane Katrina, the earth ravaged by whirlwinds raging from Iraq to Florida, from Louisiana to Washington. Through obsession or obliviousness, rigidity or laziness, Bush got himself singed, tossed about, engulfed, and nearly buried.

He began the year proclaiming "a turning point" in Iraq. In every crisis he faced, he assumed that everything would turn his way, as it always had in the past. He ended the year declaring "victory" within reach.

The first shift in Bush's political fortunes came with his unprecedented intervention in the case of Terry Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, whose husband's attempt to have her feeding tube removed was upheld after 14 appeals in Florida courts, five federal law suits, and four refusals to hear the case by the supreme court.

Bush rushed to sign a bill transferring the case from state to federal courts. For weeks Republicans strutted and the Democrats cowered. Then, on March 21, the spell carried over from the election campaign was broken: an ABC News poll found that 63% backed the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube and 67% believed that politicians urging she be kept alive were demagogic and unprincipled.

By now Bush's plan to privatise social security was moribund. He languished over his long summer vacation besieged by Cindy Sheehan, whose son had died in Iraq. She camped by the road leading to the president's ranch, asking him to explain the "noble cause" for which her son had given his life. Bush refused.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, Bush's aides held a fraught debate about which one of them would have to tell the president he should cut short his vacation. Four days after the hurricane landed, Bush left his ranch, and on Air Force One watched a custom DVD of television news coverage assembled by his staff. He had not bothered to see any of it on his own.

He praised his feckless chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown - "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" - and nominated his former personal attorney and White House legal counsel Harriet Miers for the supreme court. Though friends offered testimony of her evangelical religiosity, conservatives did not trust her because she had once made gestures toward women's and civil rights, and Bush got her to withdraw.

Bush hoped to erase the year's infamies with the election in Iraq on December 15, his ultimate turning point. He delivered five major speeches crafted by his new adviser on the National Security Council, Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and co-author of Choosing Your Battles, based on his public opinion research showing that "the public is defeat phobic, not casualty phobic". In one speech, Bush mentioned "victory" 15 times, against a background embossed with the slogan "Plan for Victory," and the White House issued a document entitled National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

Since the election of the Shia slate that will hold power for four years, dedicated to an Islamic state allied with Iran, the president and his advisers have fallen eerily silent. As his annus horribilis draws to a close, Bush appears to have expended the turning points. Welcome to victory.

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