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The Accomplishments of George W. Bush

By Richard Reeves

WASHINGTON -- There is an old baseball story that was, I think, first told about Frankie Frisch when he was player-manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s:

The Cardinals' right fielder misplayed a routine fly ball into a double, and Frisch angrily took the guy out of the game, saying, "I'm going out there myself and show you how to play the outfield." A fly ball was hit to the same place and Frisch dropped it. He came back to the dugout, they say, and shouted to the right fielder, "You've got that position screwed up so bad that no one can play it!"

That story kept playing in my head on Wednesday as President Bush called yet another press conference to duck, dodge and plead as he tried to play Iraq without getting hit in the head. Surprisingly, I felt sorry for him, thinking that after him, no one can play that position. Then television screens filled with dazed Republicans trying to play their positions, saying that, well, no one else has any ideas what to do.

They were followed by our boy in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, at a press conference in Baghdad, saying that, by God, he was head of an elected government and no Americans were going to tell him what to do. Al-Maliki seemed to be on the verge of saying that he was considering invading the United States to bring democracy to North America.

So Bush was no longer saying that we were "staying the course." But he did continue to say we are winning. What course? The president and the four people he was listening to, if he was listening to anyone, have wandered many courses: unilateralism, preventive war, sending the Iraqi army home, calling the Iraqi army back, dismissing the bureaucracy, calling it back.

And victory? What are we winning?

There actually are other ideas out there, from sending in more troops -- a draft, anyone? -- to getting all our troops out by tomorrow afternoon. None of them is perfect, none of them can actually work, because we did not know what we were doing when we went in there. The intelligence was bad, a phrase that can be read in more than one way. It doesn't matter when we leave -- except for casualty figures on all sides; we lost before we began.

Where do we stand now? What have we accomplished? First, we have shown the world the limits of our military power. We have humiliated our own military. There is no military force on the planet that can defeat us, but there is no army in the world, ours included, that can long survive the occupation of a hostile country. Occupation is not about fighting and winning; it is about fear, policing, order and the rule of law. It is actually about politics, about governance, abstractions that have no relation to the most disciplined of occupying armies. What do the Marines know about imposing law in Muslim countries, rebuilding courts and dispensing justice?

Outside Iraq, we have managed to encourage the Iranians and the North Koreans to challenge us, knowing that our military is no longer invincible or even available to stop them with anything short of our own nuclear weapons. Also, we are in the process of terrifying our allies in the Middle East, beginning with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both are countries with faults -- Pakistan is too -- but they have to think now about where they will stand when the Americans leave Iraq, be that sooner or later.

And at home, the White House, playing the "Support Our Boys" and terror cards, has managed to marginalize the checks and balances normally exercised by the Congress and the press. That homeland damage could take years to repair. It could also be made worse if Democrats sweep to power in Congress next month and decide that revenge is the order of the day.

Yes, I did feel sorry for my president last week -- and for decent Republicans who have to defend him in re-election campaigns -- but I cry more for the beloved nation. At best, the arrogance, the ignorance, the stupidity of this president and his little crowd of advisers will leave the United States a weakened nation, perhaps in a position that can't be played by anyone.

Copyright 2006 Universal Press Syndicate

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