After the Sunday disaster on Meet the Press, it's fair to ask: Does Mr. Bush still have the confidence in himself to continue as president? If I were sitting beside Mr. Bush in the Oval Office, this is what he'd hear:
Mr. President, your performance on Meet the Press on Sunday was simply awful. You conceded that the intelligence justifying the Iraq campaign was wrong. You lacked confidence in answering Tim Russert's questions. You were tentative, you gulped, looked away, like someone who doesn't want to answer. Saying that Saddam was "capable" of developing weapons doesn't explain why it was worth spending hundreds of American lives to remove him from power. When Russert pointed out the obvious -- that there are a lot of other countries that can make WMD, and are also linked to terrorists -- you only said that diplomacy hadn't run its course in those cases. You seemed unable to answer the questions about Iraq, the intelligence mess and almost everything else about military and foreign policy matters. As of 11:30 a.m. EDT on 8 February, there is political blood in the water, and it's all yours.
You need to come out swinging on Iraq and intelligence. Your best spokesman is not Powell or Tenet. They're weak sisters, and only condemn your policy with faint praise. Big Dog got it right in his remarks to the EUnuchs last week. The problem with the world ain't George Bush's America, it's the bad guys. You have -- apparently -- reached the conclusion that the intel community isn't capable of giving you the support you need to make your policy of preemption work. Order a top-to-bottom review of it and make the changes necessary to force -- not ask -- all the intelligence agencies to operate jointly like the military now does. This cannot be done by the new commission you announced last week. You need a review that is done only by intel and military professionals, and you can't wait for the results until March 2005 when you may be out of a job. Get it done by September and make the results part of your legislative and campaign agenda.
Tim Russert went easy on you. He asked tough but respectful questions. You should be very grateful that you weren't facing the pressure of a debate with your opponent. You looked a lot like your father: a damned good man worn out by his job. You, and he, are two of our very best. But you need to make people proud of you again, to energize them to reelect you. John Kerry has all the confidence of someone who hasn't had to face the tough decisions you have. The next time his name comes up, quote Churchill: "Any clever person can make plans for winning a war if he has no responsibility for carrying them out."
You almost said the right thing: that taking out Saddam was right because we need to take on -- and take out -- all of the regimes that support terrorism. You hedged, but what you said about Libya surrendering its nukes should be your central point. What the bad guys must continue to understand is that what we did to Saddam we will do to them unless they take Qaddafi's route. Only you -- with the confidence we know you can muster -- can deliver that message credibly. John Kerry is running ads that picture him as the strong military hero he once was but is no longer. He is a multinationalist, eager -- like Clinton was -- to have the UN and the EUnuchs make our defense decisions for us. You are the real leader. Or you were, from September 2001 through May 2003. We need that George Bush to lead us for the next four years, not the one we saw on Sunday.
You almost -- again, that deadly word "almost" -- said that the UN is the basis for the failure of diplomacy. The nation would heed this and rally around you if you said it directly, because it is true. Your Proliferation Security Initiative -- actively interdicting shipments of WMD and missiles -- without any UN involvement is manifestly the right thing to do. You need to say that you're making the world safer without the UN because the UN has failed to do its job. You need to say this long, hard, and continuously. If Powell and Tenet won't say that, they should be fired. Your loyalty to your people is admirable only so long as they return it, and do a good job. Your administration has weaknesses. You will lose if you don't remedy them.
THOSE OF US WHO SPEND most waking hours thinking about the nation's security too often ignore other issues that dominate voters' decision making. No one who has measured the dangers this country faces could vote for the likes of John Kerry, who will surrender our nation's security to the Jacques and Kofi's. But more and more, I am hearing from many rock-ribbed conservatives that Dubya ain't one of us. I've heard from enough of them to convince me that -- regardless of today's meaningless poll numbers -- the results in November may yet leave you in the same position as your father.
George Will's Sunday column raises the question of whether a second Bush term, if there is one, will be worth serving. The answer is clearly yes. Because if you lose, and we have a Democrat who will not pursue the policy of preemption against terrorists, more Americans will be killed at home and abroad, and the interests of the United States will become an easy target for all our enemies and competitors. Your tepid defense of the decision to make war to remove Saddam weakens you, as did Tenet's speech last week (Hey, whether we're mostly right or mostly wrong is not the issue, the CIA is still cool) is of as much help as Colin Powell saying, well, maybe we were wrong. That has to stop.
You need to re-energize the conservative base, and you need to do so with action, not words. Remember one key fact: one of the main differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals only want to feel morally superior to the next guy. They don't care if anything is actually done about a problem. Conservatives are action-oriented. Solve a problem and move on to the next one.
There's a lot of SGO in the world and at home, Mr. President, and it's time for you to face a couple of domestic issues squarely. Here's a few suggestions that will answer Will's question in the affirmative and in terms the average Joe will take to heart:
• Propose the urgent passage of a Constitutional amendment requiring that marriage only be defined as a union between a man and a woman. The "Defense of Marriage Act" doesn't cut it. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution requires that every state honor the laws, records and judicial decisions of every other. Unless there is a Constitutional amendment preventing it, the court decisions and laws of absurdly liberal states such as Massachusetts will make homosexual marriage the law of the land by the end of 2004.
• Your 2005 budget request is laden with all sorts of liberal pork. Why the hell did we elect a Republican president? It sure wasn't to increase the worst of it, which is exactly what you're doing. Why in God's green earth are you raising the amount of money wasted on the American equivalent of the BBC -- the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- and the National Endowment for the Arts? Those agencies should receive zero tax dollars, not the hundreds of millions they get now. Your budget increases their take next year. What were you thinking?;
• While the libs take more, the military -- not the DoD, but the grunts and the retired servicemen -- get less. There's an old law called "concurrent receipt." It says that for every dollar a retired serviceman gets in disability pay, he loses a dollar of his military pension. Congress has been whittling away at this law while your administration objects to any reform. Why? If you took the money that goes to the Public Broadcasting and NEA and paid it to the retired military, the nation would be better and stronger for it. Why are you supporting liberal pork and opposing the fix to the concurrent receipt problem? Get this problem solved now, or a lot of military retirees are going to stay home in November.
Those are only a few examples, but they are good ones. We believe in you, Mr. President, and are proud of how you've led our country since 9-11. You need to revive the pride and confidence you showed when you addressed Congress after 9-11 and told the world it had to choose to be with us or against us. We believe -- in our hearts -- that you have the intelligence and the vision to lead us to a safer world. But you have to prove all over again that you believe it yourself.
TAS Contributing editor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and now often appears as a talking warhead on radio and television.