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Bush — 0 for 3 in ’04?

Is George W. Bush failing to make good on his promises to the American people?

February 27, 2003

Is George W. Bush failing to make good on his promises to the American people?

First, after the events of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush vowed to the American people in true Texan style that he would deliver the head of Osama bin Laden — dead or alive, as he put it in so many words. And much of the world stood — and stands — with the President of the United States in achieving that goal.

But since then, President Bush has gone awfully silent on the goal of going after Osama. As a matter of fact, it has been a long, long time that the president last uttered the “O” word (you know, the “evil one”). And what is particularly galling about this radio silence is not just that Osama apparently is still alive and well.

More irritating is the Bush Administration’s curious keenness on switching targets — and going after Saddam, rather than the Saudi master terrorist.

In the process, a lot of china has been broken among long-term allies, such as Germany and the United States. The amazing thing is that the Germans — to take but one example — are working every bit as eagerly and ardently as the U.S. administration is hoping for in the hunt of … well, bin Laden and al Qaeda — but not Saddam.

Be that as it may, from the perspective of George Bush’s reelection team, bin Laden looks like a humungous strike-out as far as the Presidential track record is concerned. That tens of billions of dollars have been spent in the effort makes it a bit worse.

And that the Bushies have proven at least as incapable as their much-maligned predecessors, the Clinton Administration — which in Republican circles is widely viewed as the source of all bad things — only angers Republican party operators even more.

On to the economy. There, the evidence does not look much better. And it is not that President Bush hasn’t tried the tax-cut medicine. The real question is whether the administration is stuck in some rut — and may not be able to reenergize the U.S. economy in time for the next elections.

That would be a disaster of major proportions from the voters’ perspective. Talk of a jobless recovery is not the platform on which Republicans are hoping to present their president for reelection.

And yet, that ominous talk is precisely what is making the rounds ever more loudly. None of the chatter about the importance of tax cuts on dividends are likely to erase that.

That would make Bush 0 for 2 in ’04.

Which brings us to Saddam Hussein. Here is a man who is a menace — but not any more so than the Soviet Union, on a much grander scale, was in its day. And that evil empire, remember, collapsed under its own weight. Credit the power of containment as the root cause for bringing down the Soviet Union.

Why, given that clear-cut precedent, is the Bush Administration then so keen — even feverish — on taking down Saddam, right here and now? There is one major reason for it. President Bush looks like he is 0 for 2. One more promise made, but not kept — and he may face that great American equalizer of three strikes and you’re out.

Unlike on Osama and the U.S. economy, Mr. Bush is convinced, that he will at least be able to deliver Saddam to the American people.

Now let us be clear. The Iraqi dictator is a scourge, and his regime deserves to be changed. But he is hardly the only one for whom that is true. And it surely isn’t worth risking a global wildfire right now — and one that is possibly turning into a world war.

So the religious zeal with which the Bush team is going after Saddam right here and now — unless it is all a great build-up of pressure to get him to remove himself from power — is of near-mystical proportions.

It is reminiscent of Richard Strauss’s opera “Salome,” in which the main character, King Herod’s daughter Salome becomes obsessed with the prophet Jochanaan.

Her obsession reaches the point where she insists on having his head served to her on a silver platter. She ultimately gets her wish, but at great cost to herself.

The Bush White House has long obsessed about Saddam Hussein in the same manner as Salome did over Jochanaan.

The difference to the antique fable, used by Richard Strauss for a hauntingly intriguing opera, is that in the real world, we can all decide in bright daylight to get off that ominous train that is turning geostrategy and plain smart thinking into an obsession of biblical proportions.

It may be hard to swallow, but many people and countries around the world do not feel that the globe spins around whether or not the incumbent U.S. President can at least have one of the “triumphs” he so ardently desires — if indeed it turns into one, and if it does not unleash the “evil” forces Mr. Bush claims to want to reign in.

The world is with the U.S. Administration on Osama bin Laden. But Washington has evidently decided that hunting down bin Laden is at best a secondary priority — which is something, frankly, that most folks around the world have a hard time comprehending.

And the world certainly wants for the U.S. economy to recover strongly. But trying to overcome two possible failures on those critical fronts by obsessing on the Saddam issue is not something many people will want to engage in.