Given his swaggered walk and ineloquent delivery, George W. Bush is an easy one to underestimate. But pundits and politicians do so at their own peril, cases in point being Al Gore and John Kerry, two gentlemen who like to think of themselves as high cultivated and erudite.
Despite his simplistic veneer, Bush belongs to the thin ranks of conviction politicians – leaders like Reagan, Churchill and Lincoln, who stand on core principles. Though members of this group at times find it necessary to zig and zag in order to remain politically viable, their brand of ideological commitment stands in stark contrast to the masters of finesse and the celebrity-seekers who dominate electoral office.
Since Islamofascist terrorism is the defining issue of his presidency, and Iran is the main perpetrator of this signature evil, it should come as no surprise if Bush chooses not to end his White House term with Tehran closing in on nuclear weapons. Conscious of his legacy, he would not want the record to show it was on his watch that the Islamic Republic went nuclear, or at the very least moved irreversibly down that road.
Two elements inform Bush’s convictions – he is both a born-again Christian and a Texan. Based on this dual identity and the approaching end of his presidency, it is not all that outlandish to visualize Bush putting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on notice that the diplomatic latitude she asked of him had proved a flagrant failure. High grades from the Council on Foreign Relations fail to win encomiums from this Beltway-wary Texan.
From his Christian faith, Bush draws the conviction that while freedom represents God’s gift to humanity, cruel and evil tyrants are capable of building hells that raze civilizations. As a (swashbuckling) Texan, he sees it as his responsibility to protect the good guys from the local bullies. On both counts, Ahmadinejad must be stopped.
Though bombing Iran may seem remote (former UN ambassador John Bolton has described the prospect as nearly zero), some of Bush’s key foreign policy moves have shown his capacity to act independently of the State Department and foreign policy establishment.
It was Bush, after all, who politely shelved the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission on Iraq and who went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, overruling the advice of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Likewise, while Yasir Arafat was Bill Clinton’s most frequent overnight White House guest, Bush would not even take a phone call from the Palestinian terror chieftain, again overruling Powell. In fact, Bush was so disenchanted with his secretary of state that he didn’t brought him back for his second term.
While pinpointing the moment that Bush will give the order to strike is beyond this article’s scope, constitutionally he can launch an invasion without going to Congress. A provocation might stem from another Iranian speedboat charge, or an attack on an American facility somewhere, or the use of Iranian-made explosives on the Iraqi battlefield.
Absent such provocations, the president has spent seven years already warning the world about Tehran’s terrorism.
During Bush’s recent visit to Israel, he gave hints as to how he sees the world and, indirectly, of the attack that may yet come. Why, he asked at Yad Vashem after viewing a 1944 aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz, did the United States fail to bomb the camps? The question’s message was that principled leaders do not countenance the appeasement of evil.
Leaving the museum, the president signed the guestbook “God Bless Israel.” This was extraordinary language from a man as laconic as Bush. On foreign trips he does not typically go around penning salutations asking divine oversight for, say, Saudi Arabia or Germany. With that statement, Bush did more than express support for a democratic ally. The most powerful person in the world was asking God to watch over the Jews in the Holy Land. Imagine, then, the revulsion he must feel at Iranian threats to blow this people off the face of the earth.
Finally, in a hardly noted aside during his airport arrival in Israel, Bush revealed the sense of mission he sees in his presidency. Though he had been to Israel once before, he said, he had never expected to return as president.