The celebrations that accompanied Bush's victory in Iraq have given way to fund-raising dinners for his re-election campaign. A large part of the money - $3,000 a plate at the White House - will be invested in convincing the voter that the blood of the soldiers and the money of the taxpayers were not spilled for naught in Iraq's streets and deserts.
Newspapers that supported the war are reporting on officers who don't know what they are doing in Iraq. The campaign managers are preparing for the race with growing suspicion that Saddam's terrifying weapons of mass destruction were nothing more than an invention by the neoconservatives around the president. Worrying trends in growth and employment are not improving the mood in the top echelons of the administration.
Republicans are taking comfort in the fact the Democrats have been unsuccessful in dictating their own agenda and presenting attractive alternative candidates. But Washington remembers well that in the summer of 1991, after the victory in the Gulf, few predicted that by November 1992 a governor from a marginal state would turn George Bush Jr.'s father into a one-term president. Political consultants are airing out Clinton's winning slogan, "It's the economy, stupid."
They are warning that so much energy expended on security affairs while Americans are losing their job security could wreak havoc with the president's approval ratings. The warnings are combined with pressure from evangelical church leaders and Jewish organizations and voices of protest from both sides of the aisles in Congress, urging the president to drop the road map and the maps of the outposts.
In his day, then-secretary of state James Baker persuaded Bush Sr. that the peace process and settlement activity don't go together. The president didn't make do only with words and conditioned the loan guarantees needed for the absorption of a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union on the cessation of settlement activity.
Benjamin Netanyahu was one of those who believed in the power of Congress, Jewish lobbyists and public opinion to restrain the president. He dragged Yitzhak Shamir into a frontal clash with the White House. Dov Weisglass convinced Ariel Sharon to enlist the White House, particularly National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice for a fight against the road map (and against Colin Powell) but that only dragged the president - who ultimately decided to adopt the map - into the depths of the quagmire.
The price of a presidential decision to quit the race for an Israeli-Palestinian peace is now listed in local currency. The delivery of the road map and the Aqaba summit have linked Bush to the peace process for good or bad - from now on, any failure will be recorded as his.
On the other hand, to claim credit for the road map's victory, it is not enough to change the government in Ramallah and condemn Palestinian terror. The road map requires Israel to evacuate all the settlements established since March 2001 and to recognize a Palestinian state within provisional borders by the end of this year.
Those moves are conditioned on a return of security to Israel's citizens. Therefore, paradoxically, restraining Hamas and a cessation of the bombings could put the president on a collision course with the Christian right and the Jews. Nor can the congressmen who are also facing elections next November allow themselves to turn their backs on the road map's opponents. The results of the elections to Congress last November showed that in the wake of 9/11, the Jews are no longer in the Democrats' pockets.
Therefore, the road map's success does not translate into political dividends for the president and his party. The only way out of the thicket that's grown around him is to pay lip service to the map, send his secretaries and advisors to the region, and here and there reprimand both sides. When the process gets stuck, he can always join the club of presidents who explained that the U.S. cannot want peace more than the two sides to the conflict.
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