1) George W. Bush will win a second term as president of the United States.
2) He will be sorry he did.
The dog that did not bark at the Democratic Party’s convention was opposition to the Iraq war. To the chagrin of the Europeans, who oppose the war by vast margins, the Democratic leadership all but muzzled opponents of a war. The battle will be fought on Bush’s ground.
Senator John Kerry set himself up for defeat by making an issue of the conduct of the Iraq war, rather than the war itself. Bush will pull a rabbit out of his hat or, to be more precise, a bear, as I reported last week (When Grozny comes to Fallujah, July 27).
Replacing the commander in chief in the midst of war is something Americans never have done, although Abraham Lincoln had some sleepless nights before the 1864 elections. Americans want a war, and will choose the war party in the end, however they may chastise the president for his numerous errors. As in war, in politics as well, the threat is mightier than the execution. Poor results in the opinion polls are a warning to the president, not repudiation.
Bush opened Pandora’s box a year ago, and not even Kerry proposes to shut it. In this case Pandora’s box better resembles a nested set of Russian dolls. Open one, and a bevy of demons flies out, forcing you to open the next one, and so forth. Dubya will be the president who led the US into a world civilizational war, although it is more precise to say that civilizational war led the US into it. Many will be the night during his second term that Bush will wish he were still in Texas, and still drunk.
In his own unassuming fashion, Bush is a world historical figure in Georg Hegel’s sense of the term – never mind that he does not know who Hegel was. A more thoughtful man would recoil in horror at the choices before him and fade into paralysis, like the unfortunate president James Buchanan in 1859. World War I was declared by elderly statesmen who had spent their entire careers (since the 1878 Treaty of Berlin) avoiding a European war. By delaying until the Central and Allied powers had sorted themselves out into two equally matched entities, they ensured that the outcome of war would be the mutual destruction of all the combatants.
World War I could not be forever delayed, though. With its declining population, France stood one generation away from helplessness at the hands of the German Empire; with its rapid industrialization, Russia stood one generation away from military parity with Germany. By analogy, if Washington were to sit on its hands until Iran, Pakistan and other Islamic states developed nuclear weapons, the inevitable future conflict would be ruinous beyond imagination. Europe’s demographic collapse and the replacement of European Christians by Middle Eastern and North African Muslims present an even deadlier long-term threat.
Washington will choose preemptive war. Narrow-minded but principled, trusting no one’s judgment but his own, petty and ruthless, George W. Bush is the man of the hour. The Weltgeist will give him a second term.
Among Pandora’s nested boxes, the next one to be opened will extend the conflict into Central Asia. Turkey’s status as the “sick man of Europe” drew the European powers into World War I, and it is Turkey’s present role as the sick man of Central Asia that will draw in the Russians. Last week I predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would ride to Bush’s rescue by introducing Russian forces into Iraq’s Sunni triangle. On July 27, the pro-government Russian daily Izvestia editorialized on behalf of such an action:
Washington, to be sure, would like Russian peacekeepers in the Sunni belt in Iraq: they have a great deal of experience operating in such Muslim hot spots as Bosnia and Kosovo … One should take note that in all these areas, the Russian peacekeepers enjoyed a very good relationship with the locals, without incidents and terrorist acts. Truthfully, the Russian leadership should consider this option quite carefully.
Bush thinks he needs Putin to prove his strategy right before the American electorate, but Putin will do so precisely because US strategy in the region is dead wrong. Washington believes that stabilizing Iraq will stabilize the entire region: Moscow knows that the Iraq war already has destabilized the region. In the 21st century version of the Great Game, Russia’s winning chess move is to replace Turkey as the dominant power in Central Asia.
Russia’s most important strategic interest lies in the Black Sea oilfields, and its greatest worry is pan-Turkish agitation along its southern border. Sergei Blagov in Asia Times Online (Tug-of-war over Uzbekistan, July 31) reported Russia’s alarm over Islamic drift in Central Asia. On July 28, K Gajendra Singh detailed the weakening of Turkey’s traditional alliances (Turkey, Israel aim to forgive and forget).
It is more probable that Turkey will revert to an Islamic model under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan than it is that Iraq will emerge as a secular democracy on the old Turkish model. Erdogan wants involvement in regional conflict less than anything in the world, except for one thing, which is the humiliation of Turkic populations in adjacent countries. He no more can remain indifferent to the plight of ethnic Turks in the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union than could Nicholas II of Russia abandon the Serbs to Austria in 1914. By the same token, Russia does not want to engage its weakened and demoralized army in a foreign venture. But it no more can remain indifferent to Turkish agitation in the Caucasus and Black Sea than could Austria tolerate Russian subsidies to Serbian terrorists in 1914.
Those are the characters in the next act of the tragedy, and their motivations. The role of tragic lead falls to George W. Bush, who will be reelected and regret it.