For U.S. President George W. Bush, 2005 turned out to be an unusually tough year. Having won re-election — something his father had failed to achieve, Mr. Bush had started out on his second term as a historic second-generation president of the United States. But the initial euphoria proved short-lived. With Iraq in turmoil, his public approval ratings went downhill. The U.S. military death toll exceeded 2,000, and the president himself finally acknowledged at the year’s end that America had gone to war based on erroneous intelligence.
A confidant to Vice President Dick Cheney resigned after being indicted over a leak scandal involving a CIA agent — a mudslinging case that also involved a leading U.S. news organization. The scandal affected the top White House aide, Mr. Karl Rove, as well as the vice president himself.
The Bush administration responded belatedly to damage in the Gulf Coast region wrought by hurricane Katrina. That virtually erased his public image as a “president strong in a time of crisis.” The disaster had exposed underlying problems of poverty in the world’s richest nation. The reconstruction work in the stricken areas has made painfully slow progress.
The ruling Republican Party is also in trouble. The majority leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Tom DeLay, who hails from the same state as Mr. Bush, was indicted and subsequently resigned over a fundraising scandal. Rumors continue to swirl around Jack Abramoff, an influential lobbyist who reportedly had extensive connections with Mr. DeLay and other Republican politicians.
President Bush has suffered a setback in his dealings with the Supreme Court as well. He named a woman — a presidential aide — to serve as a new justice, but faced with objections from conservative hardliners of his own party, Bush retracted the decision. The president then nominated a federal court judge, but the announcement was opposed by Democrats who considered the nominee to be “too conservative.” Senate confirmation of the appointment is still pending.
Thus the second-term Bush administration, beset by various problems and challenges left over from the past year, appears to be losing traction. Although the president has three more years to go, it is reported that not a few Americans are already beginning to regard him as a “lame duck.”
The going promises to be tougher still this year, with members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as state governors facing midterm elections in November. The Republican Party, which maintains a majority in both chambers, is aiming to further consolidate the trend toward conservatism. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is seeking to reverse the tide of American politics by regaining lost ground.
In 2008, American voters will elect a new president. Whether he will be a Republican or a Democrat depends crucially on how the midterm elections turn out. The two parties are expected to put up new, more attractive candidates to win the hearts and minds of voters.
Political strife is the order of the day in an election year, not just in America. The Democrats are reportedly looking to the interim elections as a battle royal that they hope will bring about the kind of change that can occur only once in a decade. The Republicans, led by a wavering president, will likely mount a new offensive. With both parties bracing for a showdown, politics in Washington could become more turbulent.
In these circumstances, there is concern that the conduct of U.S. foreign policy might stagnate or, worse, just muddle through. Iraq is a case in point. How would the Bush administration end the chaos in a country where it started a war based on wrong intelligence? How would it stop the rising death toll, not only of U.S. soldiers but of Iraqi citizens as well? One possible scenario is that, with midterm elections in the offing, Washington might accelerate U.S. troop withdrawals temporarily for political reasons. The result would be to deepen the chaos.
Another concern is a possible stalemate in the multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. The six-party talks, involving China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the U.S., resumed last summer after a hiatus of more than a year, thanks to a measure of flexibility demonstrated by the Bush administration. Although the reopened dialogue did make some progress, it is reported that administration hardliners are beginning to reassert themselves.
All in all, President Bush faces enormous challenges as he enters the second year of his second term. With myriad problems, domestic and foreign, likely to explode in this election year, one hopes he will maintain steady control at the helm.
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