Seemingly every week, U.S. President George W. Bush's popularity falls to another record low. This week, a poll conducted by "The New York Times" and CBS News television revealed that only 30 percent of Americans believe Bush might be able to end the Iraq war successfully; 56 percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq in the first place. Now the world faces the possibility that Bush might decide to take military action in an effort to halt Iran's nuclear program. Bush has said repeatedly that he intends to resolve the problem diplomatically, yet he acknowledges that military action may be required. But can he summon the popular support -- and more importantly, the Congressional support -- he needs to move against Iran?
WASHINGTON, May 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) - In William Hartung's view, Bush probably could get approval for military action against Iran, even if public support is lacking. Hartung studies war and the American presidency at the World Policy Institute, a private policy center in New York.
Hartung told RFE/RL that Congress is somewhat evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and even many Republicans are trying to distance themselves somewhat from this increasingly unpopular president as they face reelection in six months.
Equal Measure Of Support And Dissent Likely
Could Bush persuade such a Congress to give him the authority he'd need to make war on Iran? Hartung thinks so.
"I'm afraid he might [get Congressional approval]. If you look at some of the Democratic statements -- they're trying to look as tough as possible. If he [Bush] decided to act, I'm sure there'd be some critics, but I'm not sure it would be a majority of the Congress," Hartung said.
In fact, he says, Democrats are just as concerned about the coming elections as Republicans are. Over the past few years, polls show Americans believe Democrats are less adept than Republicans at military and other security matters.
As a result, Hartung expects that if Bush proposed attacking Iran, he probably would get vocal support from many Republicans, and vocal dissent from a few Democrats. The rest of the Democrats, he says, would, in his words, "self-censor themselves" for fear of appearing unpatriotic.
The upshot is that Bush is a willful president, a leader who does what he feels he needs to do -- at least unless the political price is too great.
"Bush seems to be the kind of president who does what he wants," Hartung said. "Given that, I think he'd be willing to go ahead unless there was massive public opposition that would somehow hurt the Republicans in the midterm elections."
Hartung believes Bush probably would go out of his way to win the support of the United Nations for any strike against Iran. He says that after defying the UN Security Council by going to war in Iraq three years ago, the American president has more recently been more cooperative with the world body.
Leon Fuerth agrees that Bush would feel the need for UN approval for any military action against Iran, but only because he believes the president has squandered his international goodwill on the Iraq war. Fuerth was a senior member of the White House's National Security Council during the presidency of Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
The death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq has topped 2,400 (CTK file photo)Fuerth told RFE/RL that he believes Bush has squandered his credibility with the American people, and with Congress, too. So he expects the president would carefully court the Senate and the House of Representatives to get their backing for any strike on Iran.
"[Bush will] need approval from everybody in sight to do so [take military action against Iran] -- not because he doesn't claim the power, but [because] he's going to need the money," Fuerth said. "The Congress, I think, is not going to be in a mood to give it to him. He's going to even work the [UN] Security Council very hard because he needs the legitimacy that comes from this. He expended everything that he had on Iraq, and if he wants to go it [make war] a second time, he really will have to build his case."
But Fuerth says it would be a tough job for Bush to get the approval he needs both from Congress and the UN. Oddly, he says, the man who could most convincingly make the case for war against Iran is Iran's own president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad. He points to provocative statements that Ahmadinejad has made frequently over the past few months.
"I don't think that there's anything that President Bush can do that would restore the kind of public credibility he had before the war in Iraq to the point where he could come back to the country and say, 'Now we have to go to war in Iran' -- unless the president of Iran continues to be creative and diligent in doing things that anger the entire international community, minus the two usual suspects, the Russians and the Chinese," said Fuerth.
A Cautious White House
And what about something short of a war -- a few air strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear facilities, for example? Would Bush need Congressional approval to carry out limited attacks without mounting a full-scale invasion?
Fuerth says there are so many potential targets that such an operation would have to be big -- big enough to require prior approval from a Congress that may be too wary of war to grant it.
Such concerns may lead Bush to conclude that war might have more liabilities than benefits, according to Hartung. He cites concerns that such action could drive the Iranian nuclear program further underground; that it could lead Tehran to begin seeking nuclear weapons if it hasn't begun already; and that it could ruin U.S.-European relations.
In fact, Hartung believes there is a growing concern within the White House about acting unilaterally against Iran, and that Bush may actually limit his dealings with Tehran to diplomacy.
That, Hartung says, is the lesson learned -- the hard way -- from acting unilaterally against Iraq.
... Payvand News - 5/12/06 ... --