BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS: WILL BUSH DO A "NIXON GOES TO CHINA?"Dr. Rick Shenkman
, a historian of the presidency and the Editor of HNN
has an article hypothesizing that President George W. Bush will turn to the role of historic peacemaker
in his second term:
"President Bush until now has been able expertly to capitalize on his status as a war president. In a crisis Americans naturally rally around their president. By playing on our continuing fears of another 9-11 he secured his re-election last November. But fear works as a political strategy only so long. The more a president becomes identified with our fears the more likely it becomes that an ever-growing number of Americans will turn to someone else who offers hope. (It was the Democrats’ misfortune that John Kerry last year neither seemed able to exploit peoples’ fears nor appeal to their hopes.)
...Immediate victory now in Iraq is no longer an option. But President Bush does not face the choice of either pulling out all of our forces as the war’s most determined critics demand or grimly “staying the course,” as he has been advocating. There is fortunately for his poll ratings a third option.
Perhaps we should call this the “Richard Nixon Option.” It was the option Nixon astutely chose in 1968 when the country was divided over another seemingly intractable war it didn’t know how to get out of.
Nixon knew Americans did not want to admit defeat. He also knew that they were tired of war. His solution? To offer himself up as the peace candidate who could deliver a compromise settlement that would redeem the great sacrifices made in the war.
His ingenious remedy involved withdrawing from Vietnam on the installment plan. The war continued for years, of course. But the public was willing to go along because Nixon convincingly could claim to be winding down American involvement
Shenkman has articulated essentially a political strategy revolving around the reality of diminishing returns - Bush could maximize the return his investment of political capital only by switching gears. I would note that Nixon did so not just by switching gears but by jumping tracks in his China Opening - he added " peacemaker" to his repetoire of Commander-in-Chief, the latter role being reinforced by other issues than just Vietnam. Bush could attempt something similar in terms of complementing Iraq with another diplomatic issue rather than implementing a "peace" policy in Iraq itself.