A crisis of credibility. As he usually does, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gets it exactly right today. Despite being generally supportive of a strike against Iraq, Friedman observes that George W. Bush has placed the country in a painful dilemma: to back down now without forcing out Saddam Hussein would be a huge blow to US credibility. Yet, of course, it is Bush himself who placed us in that position in the first place. Writes Friedman:
For Mr. Bush and for the U.S., the costs of leaving Saddam in place -- having made Washington blink and abandon its allies in the region -- would be enormous. I suspect that when the small group of war hawks persuaded Mr. Bush to begin a huge troop buildup in the gulf back in July -- without consulting Congress or the country -- they knew that it would create a situation where the U.S. could never back down without huge costs.
Of course, the counterargument is that forcing Bush to back down would not damage US credibility -- rather, it would damage his credibility.
A military strike against Iraq may yet prove necessary, provided Bush can line up a respectable cross-section of international support. But it's hard not resent his strategy of treating the American public with the same level of contempt and disrespect that he normally reserves for, say, the Turkish parliament.