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Sunday
May212006

Post-presidency for Bush already here

The Bush post-presidency began earlier than any other leader since Richard Nixon, whose second term was curtailed by impeachment hearings.

No, George Bush won't be leaving office early, and he won't even be subjected to the same political humiliations as Bill Clinton on his way out.

But make no mistake, Bush's lame-duck period has arrived with a vengeance - at least internationally.

So, until January 2009 rolls around, don't be surprised to see America increasingly disrespected by regional rogues, frequently ignored by rising powers and often described as a declining great power by long-time allies.

This is the hidden cost of Bush blowing his military wad on Iraq and then letting the fabled interagency process screw up the postwar peace.

The ongoing tie-down of resources in Iraq means any diplomatic ultimatums issued by this administration will carry little weight, instead inviting even more back talk from emboldened foreign leaders.

This is what gets us Vladimir Putin firing back from the Kremlin, referring to the Bush White House as Comrade Wolf who "knows whom to eat" and "is clearly not going to listen to anyone."

Then there's Iran's off-kilter President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, in response to our latest diplomatic pressure over Tehran's nuclear programs, sent Bush a letter counseling him to give up on democracy and follow his country's theocratic model.

But there's more.

How about Venezuela's strongman Hugo Chavez talking trash in South America? Or Sudan's genocidal thugs - not to mention their former tenant Osama bin Laden - daring America to invade that African hellhole, promising us body bags galore?

And let's not forget North Korea's Kim Jong Il, who's apparently been given a pass by Bush for the rest of this administration, despite already possessing several nukes.

The Bush team has gone from crowing, "Who's next?" after Iraq to concentrating today on not losing a series of fights that it readily began in the shadow of 9/11 but now seem unable to close out: most obviously Afghanistan and Iraq but also Iran and Syria, by extension, and even deeply troubled Pakistan - where bin Laden still hangs out - by proxy. Bush's next military intervention? Try the National Guard on the Rio Grande.

The Bush post-presidency began last summer with Hurricane Katrina, as did - to no surprise - the 2008 presidential race. In that domestic disaster, the administration's continuing failures in Iraq were revealed to be part of a comprehensive pattern of poor strategic planning, tone-deaf alliance politics - there, with state governments - and boneheaded crisis management.

Bush is to be commended for caring deeply about the vision thing that his father once famously disdained, but since the chief executive is all about execution - not just "deciding" - our 43rd president is looking less and less like a 21st-century Ronald Reagan and more like the secretive Nixon, the only wartime Republican administration to supercede Bush's amazing ability to elicit such fear and loathing from so many Americans.

International financial crises are usually triggered when global investors witness local investors starting to go short on their own currency, meaning they're betting on devaluation in the near term. Once there's blood in the water, the bigger sharks begin circling and the country in question is rapidly targeted for profiteering exploitation - as in, everyone wants to get their cut while the ship's going down.

Sad to say, we're looking at something quite similar with the unimaginative Bush administration in the roughly 30 months running up to the '08 election. Whoever wins that race will inevitably be forced to devalue our national standing/power/interests/etc. with allies and nonallies the world over.

This "correction" will involve numerous mea culpa, backtracking on various treaty negotiation stands previously taken and a recasting of our entire effort to transform the Middle East.

The good news is, the price of winning back old allies and courting new ones will be drastically discounted the minute the new president is sworn in. Why? America is far too important to the global economy and international security environment to remain weakened for any length of time. It's just bad for business, much like skyrocketing federal deficits.

George Bush will go down as a great one-term president who had the misfortune to last two terms.

Not a new story in American politics, just a rather costly and sometimes humiliating one this time around.

But have no fear, for this, too, shall pass.

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