Bush and Churchill
Andrew Sullivan makes the interesting observation that
Wartime leaders have always faced the worst fear: defeat in battle. But in democracies at least, war leaders also confront another danger: success. The qualities that make for great statesmanship in wartime Ã¢€” determination, a single focus on victory, a black-and-white conviction of who is friend or foe Ã¢€” can often seem crude or overbearing when peace comes around. The most dramatic example of this in Western history is Winston Churchill. It is no exaggeration to say that without him, Britain may well have been destroyed by Hitler. He was the difference between victory and defeat. But almost the minute that victory was declared, the voters turned on their hero. He lost the postwar election. Even more striking, he lost it in one of the biggest landslides in Britain’s parliamentary history. He wasn’t just defeated. He was buried.
I wonder if the lesson of Churchill now haunts the office of Bush political strategist Karl Rove. For something not completely dissimilar seems to be happening to George W. Bush. Since just after the capture of Saddam, Bush’s ratings have been slumping. And this is less surprising than it appears. The paradox of the war against terrorism is that the more the President succeeds, the more politically vulnerable he gets. The fewer the terrorist incidents, the more remote the fear, the less necessary the war seems and the more dispensable the war President appears. If he responds to this by insisting that the enemy is still powerful and dangerous, he runs the risk of seeming to concede that he hasn’t managed to curtail the threat. Or, worse perhaps, it seems as if he’s whipping up fear and panic for his own electoral advantage. And after the failures of intelligence with respect to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush’s credibility on unknown threats is already eroded.