[Mb-civic] FW: Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report
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Thu Nov 3 09:19:57 PST 2005
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From: "Kiddie Zafar" <Kiddie at projector.ch>
Date: Wed, 2 Nov 2005 09:54:08 -0000
Subject: FW: Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report
Geopolitical Intelligence Report - November 1, 2005
The Bush Presidency: Can It Survive?
By George Friedman
Last week, President George W. Bush's appointee to the Supreme Court,
Harriet Miers, withdrew her nomination after being savaged from all
directions. Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby,
was indicted on a series of charges having to do with the
investigation of a White House leak. And the president of Iran said
that Israel has to be wiped off the face of the map. None of these
events, by themselves, rise to the level of historical significance.
But the three taken together, along with other signs and portents,
might well be of enormous significance.
We have long argued that one of the primary reasons for the invasion
of Iraq was the Bush administration's need to demonstrate to the world
in general and the Muslim world in particular that the United States
not only has the stomach for war, but also can be decisively
victorious. This capacity has not been obvious to anyone, including
Americans, since the Vietnam War. Rightly or wrongly, it had become an
idée fixe that the United States shied away from wars in general and
from potentially extended wars in particular.
Now we are in a period of warfare when the power of the U.S. president
-- due to a variety of factors -- has become uncertain. And that is no
trivial matter to either the United States or a host of foreign
The Presidency: A Decisive Force?
In wartime, the power of the U.S. president is critical. It is the job
of a skillful politician in wartime to do whatever it takes to keep
the presidency strong and decisive. And as history shows, presidents
who are able to hold the political center and act decisively-- despite
challenges faced in the war or on other political fronts -- will
survive. Franklin D. Roosevelt led the United States through a series
of unmitigated disasters -- surviving more than a year of defeat and
confusion -- because he nurtured confidence among the public and
carefully manipulated situations so as to deflect blame from himself.
Adm. Husband Kimmel, the commander-in-chief of the Pacific region, was
fired after Pearl Harbor; Roosevelt was not.
Conversely, the center did not hold under Lyndon B. Johnson. His
legitimacy and credibility as a warfighting president collapsed with
startling swiftness when his own party turned on him -- and the
opposition, though still supporting the war, never had any confidence
in his warfighting strategy. Roosevelt survived the fall of the
Philippines; Johnson could not even survive the Tet Offensive.
Therefore, the question that Bush now faces is whether he can hold the
center -- whether his presidency can survive as a decisive force .
Let's define this with some care. Unless he was to be convicted of
high crimes and misdemeanors by the House of Representatives, Bush
will serve as president until January 2009. But there are two kinds of
presidents: those with sufficient power to act unilaterally in foreign
affairs -- that is, who assume they have the political power to speak
and act with confidence -- and those who lack or have lost that
For instance, by the time of the final North Vietnamese assault,
Gerald Ford had no practical military or diplomatic options left. His
political and legal position precluded that: The center of his
presidency was in shambles. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, retained
his military option relative to Yugoslavia in spite of other political
problems. He was able to move from military action to covert action to
diplomatic action at will -- and, in general, without reference to
external forces. He was a free agent. Ford could not control the
situation in Vietnam, whereas Clinton could control the situation in
Kosovo, Bosnia and ultimately in Serbia. The center of Clinton's
Polls and Perceptions: The Fight for the Right
The question now, therefore, is whether the center of Bush's
presidency will hold or whether he will, for a time or permanently,
lose the ability to act unilaterally in foreign affairs. There have
been many factors influencing the U.S.-jihadist war in general, but
the key now is this: Can Bush still make unilateral decisions? For
instance, does he have the ability to decide whether to bomb Syria? Or
attack Iranian nuclear reactors? Could he withdraw forces from Iraq
without appearing to be capitulating? Can he keep promises to Iraqi
factions and credibly threaten them as well?
Part of the answer lies in foreign perceptions of the U.S. presidency,
which brings us to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent
statement on Israel . The statement was rooted in many things. Some of
it has to do with domestic Iranian politics; some of it is simply the
repetition of long-standing Iranian policy; some of it has to do with
the fact that the new president likes to make bellicose statements.
But the single most important factor is that Iran does not fear the
United States quite as much now as it did six months ago. Words are
merely words, but the Iranians were probing for reaction. That the
French condemned the statement was of little interest to Tehran;
whether the Americans condemned it - and, if so, how -- was the key.
The Iranians were taking the measure of American politics. And the
response from Washington, we note, was quite mild in comparison to
most other Western governments.
Bush's popularity rating, after Libby's indictment was announced,
stood at 39 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll. This is
actually pretty good news for Bush, believe it or not. As we attempted
to show in past articles, there is a point of support beyond which
Bush's Republican base could be deemed to be fragmenting , and that
is the point at which a presidency becomes unrecoverable. Bush has
been at that point, which we peg -- at the extreme -- at 39 percent,
for several weeks now. Polls have been showing him in the 37 percent
to 45 percent range, which, given error rates, puts him realistically
in the very low 40s. Bush's support did not bounce back (given all the
issues at stake, a bounce would have been miraculous), but -- and this
is the critical point -- his core has not fragmented.
This is one reason why Miers, whose nomination to the Supreme Court
raised outcries among Bush's core base of conservatives, had to be
ditched fast -- before the indictments in the Plame case came out.
At this point, Bush must, above all costs, hold his base solidly. He
can't even begin to worry about the center, let alone the left, if the
right deserts him. Miers' appointment raised doubts on the right. Bush
could not be certain what the grand jury would say or who would be
indicted, but he knew there would be indictments. By getting Miers out
of the way, he rallied his base at a moment when they would be the
vital -- and only -- element he could bank on. If the early polls are
correct, the move worked.
This does not necessarily mean, however, that Bush is out of the
woods. The social conservatives are only one of three core
constituencies within the Republican Party. The others are economic
conservatives and businesspeople and, finally, the national security
constituency. Miers' withdrawal shored up support among the social
conservatives, and the recent nomination of Ben Bernanke to be the new
chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve seems to have delighted the
economic conservatives. But the Plame affair is raising hackles in the
third constituency: The national security core is restive, to say the
There are several strands within this constituency. First, there are
the military service members and their families, who are extremely
unhappy with the failure to expand the military and to halt the
frequent and long deployments that active duty, reserve and National
Guard troops are enduring. There is another round of stop losses
coming for the next rotation to Iraq -- further alienating a natural
Republican constituency that is in near-revolt. Then there are those
who vote Republican because they believe the GOP is more likely to
support the defense and intelligence community: These are the ones who
are most shaken by the Plame affair, which cuts against their
perception of Republican practice. Finally, there are those who
generally believe that Republicans are more effective at conducting
foreign policy. It is the support of this group that is now at risk.
These are overlapping constituencies, obviously. But that strand of
the Republican base that supported the war even without the issue of
WMD, or that could accept misleading reasons for going to war, is
now raising fundamental questions about the execution of the war. A
recent poll shows the president is slipping in this core constituency.
Political Cycles and Windows of Opportunity
The rest of the world is sensing this weakness. They have long
experience with the American political cycle and its periodic
weakening of the president. They understand that, despite the
objective power of the United States, internal constraints frequently
tie the president's hands -- limiting his ability to act or to change
the pattern of his actions. These cycles can last from months to
several years, but they are not permanent. They do, however, open
important windows of opportunity.
The obvious example is the Nixon-Ford presidency and Vietnam, but the
weakness extended into the Carter presidency as well. As events in
Iran and Afghanistan transpired, options that might have been
available under other circumstances were not available to Carter.
Indeed, except for the perception that political circumstances
precluded the United States from taking certain actions, it is not
clear that either the Iranian revolutionaries or the Soviet Union
would have behaved in exactly the manner they did. They were able to
exploit the temporary situation to their benefit.
The United States is enormously powerful, and viewed within the
context of a century, these periodic paralyses are not decisive. It
has been established that Woodrow Wilson was unable to control U.S.
foreign policy after World War I. Roosevelt could not act as early as
he would have liked on World War II, and others were unable to keep
control in Vietnam and Iran. But these substantial moments of
paralysis and failure did not define the main trajectory of U.S. power
-- which consistently increased throughout the century. To those who
doubt this premise, consider the fate of Japan and Germany in World
War II or the Soviet Union in the Cold War. There were those -- Henry
Kissinger included -- who were prepared to argue that the United
States was a declining power after Vietnam. The decline is hardly
visible 30 years later.
This is not to understate the dilemma now facing the president. Bush's
problems are not trivial: He will be president for three more years,
and if he is paralyzed, other nations will have opportunities for
action they might not otherwise have. But it has to be kept in
balance. The United States does not come near to utilizing its full
power -- a few years of paralysis historically have been compensated
for at later dates, with minimal harm. But as we saw in the 1930s and
1970s, these periods of U.S. paralysis can have substantial
consequences during that time -- and particularly for the history of
other nations. The rest of the world may have proceeded pretty much as
it would have anyway during those periods, but the course of
Vietnamese and Iranian history did not.
At this moment, a number of secondary powers are considering the
condition of the American presidency. Iran, as we have noted, is one.
Russia is another. For Moscow, the United States is an ally and
competitor. If the American presidency is about to enter a black hole,
Vladimir Putin will behave differently than he otherwise might. China
is dealing with a host of American demands. Those will be dealt with
differently if Bush no longer commands the government but only the
White House. And in Iraq, of course, every party is looking at
American will and American guarantees.
Bush has not lost his presidency. He is merely close to it, and other
presidents have recovered from such precarious positions. What he
needs is a decisive victory within the United States. That is why he
has nominated Samuel Alito, a staunchly conservative judge, for the
Supreme Court in place of Miers. Bush is putting all of his eggs in
one basket, looking again to shore up his core base of support. If he
can win this battle, the entire psychology of his presidency will
shift in his favor. If he loses, then he probably will be no worse off
than he was before.
Presidents have power to the extent that they are perceived to have
power. At this moment, Bush's status is uncertain. He has certainly
not yet lost his presidency, but he has not restored his standing in
the polls. It is interesting, therefore, that the status of U.S.
foreign policy rests at this moment on the outcome of a decidedly
internal matter: the battle for the Supreme Court. The fates of other
nations -- and the United States can be decisive in determining their
fate -- rest on the idiosyncrasies of American domestic politics.
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