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The Effect of War on the Presidency - 2003-03-28


No matter the outcome, the war in Iraq will define the Presidency of George W. Bush. And, as Jim Bertel reports, the outcome may very well determine the political future of the American President.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT
“We will defend our freedom, we will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.”

WILL MARSHALL, PROGRESSIVE POLICY INSTITUTE
“I think it’s not too much to say that President Bush has staked his Presidency on this war in Iraq.”

Will Marshall is President of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington political education group. He and other political observers agree no one has more to gain - or lose - from the war’s outcome than George W. Bush. His decision to militarily disarm Saddam Hussein is consistent with his style as a risk taker, says Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
“Big risks can bring big rewards. They can also bring major disasters.”

But the President has made clear the threat posed by Saddam Hussein demands a resolute new approach despite the risks to established institutions and bilateral relationships. Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation believes this approach could place the President among history’s greatest statesmen.

MICHAEL FRANC, HERITAGE FOUNDATION
“He can come out of this war looking like some combination of Winston Churchill and, maybe, Teddy Roosevelt – where he acted upon basic principles, he saw a threat coming around the corner and he preemptively stopped it from becoming an actual calamitous event, either inside our borders or with respect to our allies.”

Alan Lichtman, a history professor at Washington’s American University, sees problems with this strategy.

ALAN LICHTMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
“First of all, you risk alienating the rest of the world. World leaders and, maybe even more critically, world public opinion.”

He says after the war, the President will need to reach out to the international community.

ALAN LICHTMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
“We can go it alone militarily, we can’t go it alone in the long run morally, we can’t in the long run stamp out the root causes of terror, and instability, and totalitarianism in the world by ourselves.”

The President’s approach has raised concerns among critics of American power. This will need to be addressed after the war according to Will Marshal.

WILL MARSHALL, PROGRESSIVE POLICY INSTITUTE
“When the smoke clears we’re going to see a fairly substantial and global debate about American power.”

Michael Franc sees it differently.

MICHAEL FRANC, HERITAGE FOUNDATION
“When the dust settles, we’ll have the most profound and intense assessment of our relationship to our European allies that we’ve had since the end of World War Two. And we’ll also go through a similar reassessment of the viability of the United Nations as an institution.”

These debates will be framed by how this war is conducted and how it ends. For example, the number of civilian casualties, the level of infrastructure damage to Iraq, and hopes for a freer Iraq. But if things go badly, opponents of the war could turn against Washington, with effects being felt in every multilateral forum.

Domestically, with a U.S. Presidential election on the horizon, the President is also taking great risks - with his very political future on the line.

ALAN LICHTMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
“Politically, George Bush’s fate may depend less on the tanks rolling through the desert today, then the reconstruction policies and the state of the domestic economy 15 months from today.”

MICHAEL FRANC, HERITAGE FOUNDATION
“If the Gulf war ends on a favorable note and we see pent up demand instead of a run up in the value of stocks, well he can actually running on the economy and not running from it.”

And this President learned a lesson from his father, who was hurt by a weekened economy despite the success of the first Persian Gulf War.

NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
“This President Bush – unlike his father – is going to use the political capital that accrues with tremendous popularity fully to implement his domestic agenda.”

And, as his father learned, it is the domestic agenda that will be on the minds of voters when they vote for President next year.

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