Hanging by a Thread

Check the last paragraph of Howard Fineman’s latest. He makes a good point: that the Bush White House is hanging by a thread these days. And the key to holding it all together is Colin Powell.

Americans are already ambivalent about war. And I’m getting the distinct feeling these days that it won’t be the cakewalk that some hawks predict. True, Iraqi soldiers could surrender en masse, or Saddam could be deposed at the last minute by someone in his inner circle. But if they actually do fight, I’m convinced it could be hell on Earth. Oil fields afire. Turkish incursions. Reporters taken hostage in Baghdad. And countless civilians caught in the chemical crosswinds.

Or maybe the war will go well (whatever that means), with Iraq disintigrating into warring factions in its aftermath. A new quagmire.

These days, all the talk is about Tony Blair’s endangered political career. But back home, the implications for Bush’s presidency are just as momentous. Fineman:

…who’s going to be blamed for the Turkey screwup, or the U.N. screwups? Who’s going to leak the authoritative—and explosive—estimates of the true cost of maintaining 100,000 troops in Iraq for the indefinite future?…Who’s going to take the fall for the fact that we’ve lost the international moral high ground? The world is blaming the president, of course, but that’s not the way things work here. Someone else goes down. Who? The “neocons”? Donald Rumsfeld? The State Department? Dick Cheney? Condi Rice?

Which brings me back to Powell. As Fineman stated, “he’s never been fully trusted by Bush’s inner circle.” Karl Rove doesn’t like that Powell is largely immune to political pressure, unlike the rest of Bush’s cabinet. Bush himself jokingly calls him Mr. War Hero.

Americans trust in Powell courage, experience and honesty — perhaps even more than they trust President Bush, and certainly more than anyone else in his administration. Indeed, support for war increased substantially only after Powell said Saddam wasn’t complying. So if Iraq does turn out to be a tough fight and Powell so much as utters a single negative word about the administration, Bush’s presidency could collapse like a house of cards.

The economy has already tanked, and things are getting worse, not better. On top of that, the world now hates us and Bush is close to spilling American blood in a war that many aren’t convinced is necessary.

Powell is probably too much of a good soldier to criticize the administration. But if he did voice dissent, it would bring out all the fears lingering just below Americans’ kneejerk patriotic support of the president. Instead, they’ll wonder, “My God, what the hell are they doing in the White House?” And barring a miraculous resuscitation of the economy, Bush would be on a permanent defensive from here to election day.

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