Leading article: Out of the 'bubble' with a new mood of contrition

Share

George Bush's prime-time address from the Oval Office on Sunday and his press conference yesterday were not only intended to draw the line under his most miserable year in office. They were also the climax of an intense campaign by the White House to win back public support for the Iraq war. In the past three weeks, the President has delivered no fewer than five major speeches in a bid to convince Americans that he has a strategy for "victory" that will allow him to bring the troops home.

In other circumstances, the strategy might be counted a success. Last week's elections in Iraq went better than expected. In his speeches, Mr Bush showed signs of breaking out of the "bubble" - the tight cocoon of protective aides, carefully chosen audiences and selective reading that have severed this President from reality.

To a certain extent, a "new" Bush has been on display. True, this Bush is still utterly convinced of the rightness of his cause. But at last the Iraq he describes bears some resemblance to the Iraq that Americans read about every day and see on their television screens every evening: the Iraq where 2,150 US troops and perhaps 30,000 Iraqis have died since March 2003, where dire mistakes and misjudgements have been made, where presidential decisions, in Mr Bush's words, have "led to terrible loss". In short, he has of late shown a measure of humility, even contrition - qualities not normally associated with him. He has been rewarded with a modest rise in his approval ratings.

But that improvement could be quickly undone. Hardly had the White House started to trumpet the election success than The New York Times revealed that the National Security Agency - by law limited to foreign intelligence gathering - has been eavesdropping on US citizens at home without the required court warrants.

Mr Bush said yesterday that the practice was vital for American security, and that its leak was "shameful" in a time of war. But it comes amid strong complaints that the anti-terrorist Patriot Act is unacceptably harming civil liberties, and the continuing controversy over "renditions" and alleged CIA prisons operating beyond the reach of any national or international law. The NSA operations have only hardened the sense that this presidency is ready to trample on the law and the constitution to expand the power of the executive branch.

For Americans, domestic snooping by an intelligence agency brings back memories of the "dirty tricks" and "enemies lists" of Richard Nixon's day. Mr Bush insists that his overriding duty is to protect the country from a stealthy, vicious and single-minded foe, by whatever means are necessary. Moreover, he adds, the NSA has acted only in cases where suspicion of terrorism leads back into the US. But how do we know?

Ultimately, Iraq holds the key to everything. If last week's elections do bring a real decline in the insurgency and some kind of political settlement, then Mr Bush will be able to make real progress in extricating America from this adventure of his own making in time for the mid-term elections next November. In that case, the controversies over NSA surveillance and the Patriot Act may subside.

It is just as possible, however, that the insurgency will become more intractable, while Iraq's ethnic and tribal divisions deepen to the point of civil war. In that case, the clamour for speedy withdrawal will grow. And even this Republican Congress will probably move decisively to rein in a presidency whose determination to increase its power is matched only by its failure to deliver the goods. If that happens, then the wretched year of 2005 will be followed by more of the same - or worse - in 2006.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has 30 years of ex...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Account Manager

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing cloud based I...

Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager - Software & Services

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd remind the rich that with great wealth comes great responsibility

Peter Tatchell
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey, who has its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival  

FAO Jamie Dornan: For a woman, being followed is not 'exciting' — it's humiliating and all too familiar

Mollie Goodfellow
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat