Commentary: For Bush, bad news on every side

If it weren't for bad news, George W. Bush wouldn't have any news at all.

Let us count the ways that this lamest of lame-duck Presidents has been hammered in recent days.

Two of his closest Texas buddies have jumped ship. First, the man known as Bush's Brain, his political spinmeister Karl Rove, announced that he was gone. Then his legal mouthpiece, the forgetful Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, joined the exodus.

The President's friend Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki took umbrage at Bush's remarks in Canada criticizing the Iraqi government's failure to meet any of the benchmarks laid down by Washington, responding that Iraq had "other friends" it can fall back on. Presumably, Maliki's buddy list starts with Iran. A day later, Bush rowed way back, telling the National VFW convention that Maliki was his "good friend" and had his full support.

In the same speech, the president hauled out, of all things, the lessons of the war in Vietnam and the consequences of the American withdrawal from that long, bitter and divisive conflict as a reason to stay the course to victory in Iraq. Internet wags immediately noted that "Bush at least had a plan to get out of Vietnam" while he has none for getting out of Iraq.

Historians just as promptly noted that the President's reading of what happened in Vietnam and Indochina after the U.S. withdrew begged a number of questions. Prime among them was whether the U.S. entry into Vietnam and Cambodia had more to do with the slaughter of millions during the war and after than its exodus did. And more to do with the deaths of 58,249 American troops before the withdrawal.

It also reminded everyone that the president himself arranged to spend his time safely at home in the Texas Air National Guard, and his Vice President Dick Cheney took five deferments to dodge any service at all, while 3 million other Americans took their turns fighting that war.

Then there's the matter of the forthcoming report to Congress on September 11 by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker on the results of the surge of additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

Even before the White House acknowledged that its political section would be writing that report and that Petraeus and Crocker would likely testify in closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill, there was ample evidence that they'd report that the addition of another 30,000 to 40,000 American troops has produced some progress in the security situation.

It will be harder, however, for the administration to trumpet any indication that improved security has led to any political progress in a country splintered along sectarian lines.

While it's true that the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq has fallen by half in the past two months, it's also true that the number of Iraqis slaughtered in sectarian violence has doubled in the past year, while Iraq's government and parliament dithers and debates and does little or nothing.

Shortly after the Petraeus/White House report on Iraq is presented, the Pentagon will be presenting the latest bill for the surge — an estimated $50 billion on top of the $147 billion Congress just voted for continuing the war. That will bring the ongoing tab for Iraq to near $15 billion a month.

Or, as they say, in for a penny, in for $1 trillion, and please ignore the fact that we can't find the money or the leadership needed to repair our own failing air traffic control system, our aging infrastructure of roads and bridges and sewer and water systems, health insurance for the 47 million Americans who don't have it and can't afford it, or our military forces and equipment, which have been stretched beyond the breaking point by endless combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is it any wonder that so beleaguered a president, counting down his last 16 months in office, has now begun talking tough about Iran and pumping up the threat of terrorism in American cities, trying one more time to frighten Americans into the same acquiescence to The Decider's decisions, no matter how irrational they are?

When can we expect President Bush to find a new turning point, a new and updated rationale, for staying so foolish a course in a war he started but can't seem to end? When will enough be enough?