It's been a tough week for this president's critics. They'd been on a roll month after month as one piece of bad news followed another - and the president's approval ratings plummeted. Between the Katrina catastrophe and daily bombings in Baghdad, there was no shortage of things to blame on this administration. So it must have been a shock to be confronted by good news like the ignominious end of Z-man, aka Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Make that the happily late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Then the president shows up in Baghdad when he and his Cabinet were supposed to be back at Camp David talking long-distance with Iraq's new leaders. The Iraqi premier, who was prepared only for a virtual meeting, looked a little stunned. It was as if W. had suddenly materialized out of a video. Much like Captain Kirk in "Star Trek" stepping out of the transporter. Beam me up to Baghdad, Scotty! Ah, these Americans, what won't they think of next?
The Democrats seemed stunned, too. There was a Democratic spokeswoman on the tube dismissing the president's overnight visit to Baghdad as a "photo-op." So was it just a publicity stunt when FDR met Churchill in the North Atlantic in August of 1941, when England stood alone against what seemed the invincible Nazi war machine? Or was it a dramatic blow for the cause of freedom in the world?
If this president just followed the polls, he might have pulled American troops out of Iraq some time ago, and tried to paper over the defeat a la Nixon-and-Ford in Vietnam. But this president, and commander-in-chief, isn't letting the polls make his decisions for him.
Once again George W. Bush seems determined to demonstrate, even in difficult times, that this country will settle for nothing less than victory in Iraq. As he told the new Iraqi premier, "I've come to not only look you in the eye, I've also come to tell you that when America gives its word, it will keep its word."
This is called constancy of purpose, and no foreign policy can succeed without it. Naturally it infuriates critics who would have thrown in the towel some time ago. ("The idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong . . . ." -Howard Dean, December 2005.)
In the end, whether victory is achieved in this war on terror will not depend on polls or pundits. It will depend on the men and women of the armed forces of the United States, and on all those who have cast their lot with freedom's cause, notably the people of Iraq and their fledgling army and government.
Coming on top of Z-man's final scene in this life and the formation of an Iraqi Cabinet at long last, the president's lightning visit to Baghdad was another piece of good news in a war that has been full of the bad kind. No wonder the loyal opposition seemed nonplused for a moment. It's had bad news to exploit for so long it may not know how to respond to the occasional ray of sunshine.
Back in Washington, the president's critics were dealt another blow when Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel investigating the Scooter Libby-Valerie Plame-Joe Wilson imbroglio, let it be known that he did not plan to indict Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, in connection with that mess.
Whew. You could almost hear the sigh of relief emanating from the White House, and imagine the chagrin among the Daily Kos and MoveOn.org crowd. W.'s more rabid critics had a name for the festive day to come when the special prosecutor would surely indict Karl Rove for something or maybe everything: Fitzmas. It rhymes with Christmas. But now the dream of a subpoena-wielding Santa Claus arriving with a bag full of indictments turns out to be only a dream. Aw shucks.
The theory is that Democrats are going to ride a wave of anti-Bush sentiment into the midterm elections and emerge, as the Republicans did in the watershed year 1994, in control of both houses of Congress. The reality is that Democrats remain Democrats, that is, divided. And divisiveness is the sure way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
John Kerry, the party's presidential nominee in 2004, is no longer talking about how to win in Iraq but proposing to withdraw most of our troops by year's end. Hillary Clinton is arguing against a precipitate withdrawal, so naturally she's booed and jeered by the party's zealots for taking so unspeakably responsible a position.
It looks like deja vu all over again, specifically 1968, when the Democratic Party came apart at its riotous convention in Chicago, where the streets seemed evenly divided between obnoxious hippies and brutal cops. That convention accomplished the impossible: It made Richard Nixon look like the respectable, responsible choice for president of the United States. Are the Democrats about to destroy themselves again, or will they ever learn?