First, it's obvious some of the president's policies are working. So far, the central objective is being achieved: There have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9-11.
Accordingly, Democrats have had little success mobilizing public opinion against Bush administration initiatives aimed at spying on terrorists inside the United States, preventing them from getting in, monitoring their international finances and communications, and prosecuting them when they are discovered here. The principle obstacles to initiatives of this sort have been raised by unelected judges, not by Congress, which did not cancel NSA's warrantless eavesdropping program, but did re-authorize the PATRIOT Act.
There was virtually no opposition to invading Afghanistan. It was too obvious that the perpetrators of 9-11 were allied with the Taliban.
It is the president's Iraq and immigration policies that have lost popular support.
On immigration, House Republicans had to drag President Bush kicking and screaming to sign substantive measures to secure the border. Even then, his actions are too little, too late. Who doubts that terrorists similar to those in "24" could walk across our borders this morning?
At the outset, invading Iraq was arguably a wise component in a National Terrorism Defense. When the CIA reported that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling WMDs and had links to al-Qaida -- which Sen. Hillary Clinton attested to on the Senate floor -- it was hard to discount the argument that allowing Saddam to remain in power posed some risk of terrorism to the United States. The prudential question was whether that risk was greater than the risks that might ensue from deposing him.
President Bush made a judgment that was ratified by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. When the CIA's intelligence turned out to be wrong, and the risks of deposing Saddam turned out to be far greater than many expected, that judgment appeared to many Americans, in retrospect, to be mistaken.
Who can blame them?
But the more important question is prospective, and again requires prudential judgment. What policies in Iraq today will decrease the chances that terrorists will kill thousands in Los Angeles tomorrow?
All the politicians lining up to replace George Bush in the Oval Office better be ready to explain convincingly and in detail how Iraq fits in to their Terrorist Defense Initiative.