Now that we've screwed the pooch on Iraq, there are only three possible outcomes for George Bush's presidency.
1. He stays the course and just drives Iraq into the ground. This could involve putting more troops in, keeping the same number of troops or even some form of withdrawal. But anyway you slice it, Iraq will be a monumental failure. It is what George W. Bush will be known for. He could leave it at that.
Or he could choose one of two other options. One could make things much better and the other is guaranteed to make things much worse.
2. He could attack Iran and turn the world upside down. This would guarantee his place among - not just the worst US presidents of all time - but the worst world leaders of all time. Attacking Iran would rank among the biggest military blunders in history.
We do not have the forces to fight against Iran. It would not be an easy fight, quite to the contrary, it would be exceedingly difficult. Iran is four times the size of Iraq and has far greater military and political capabilities. They could mobilize Shiites to attack our already weakened interests in Iraq and Lebanon, let alone Israel. They could nearly bring the production and distribution of oil to a halt out of the Persian Gulf. And expose our soldiers in Iraq to much greater harm.
The leaders of Iran already know this. They also know that being attacked by the US is the best thing that could happen to their political fortunes inside Iran. It would turn a young, disaffected population into one with nationalistic and religious fervor united behind the mullahs.
Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is the Dennis Rodman of global politics. He is trying to goad Bush into taking a swing at him. He knows that it is not possible for Bush to finish the job, and that if America jabs at Iran, it will secure Ahmedinejad and the Ayatollahs' reign in Iran for another generation. It's a dangerous but smart game. And it is being played against an opponent who doesn't have any idea of what's happening to him. It's easy to provoke this dumb, blind beast.
Say a couple of inflammatory things against Israel - but don't actually take any aggressive steps. So, when the US attacks, they are the guilty party. You are the protector of Iran. America is loathed across the world for starting another aggressive war. And the whole Muslim world is united behind your leadership.
If Bush falls for this trick, he will live in infamy as one of the least capable and least intelligent men to ever lead a global power. The old European and Ottoman empires would often breed entirely within royal families. This would from time to time produce a mentally handicapped heir to the throne. None of them have ever made a mistake as large as the one Bush would make if he attacked Iran without a legitimate military provocation.
We are told we must be wary because Ahmedinejad denies the Holocaust. I have never heard a worst reason to contemplate attacking another country in my life. Who cares?! What is the official Chinese position on the Cambodian genocide? And should we invade them based on this? The government of Turkey still denies the Armenian Genocide. Should we invade them too while we're at it?
Have people in this country lost their minds? You don't go to war with people and risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people because they hurt your feelings. Please tell me our leaders aren't this painfully stupid.
Of course, then there is option number three. The only thing that can salvage Bush's presidency at this point. It's got to be a doozy to pull him out of the ignominious hole he has dug for himself. And it is.
3. Broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If Bush could pull off this Herculean task, then every sentence about his legacy would start off with, "But no matter what, he was the one that brought peace to the Middle East..."
Now, that seems so improbable as to be near impossible. But it's his only chance. If he could pull it off, it would be an undeniably historic task. It would make Nixon going to China look like my Aunt Maude going down to the grocery store. No matter how bad you screw things up in the rest of your presidency, if you get a true peace deal between the Israelis and the rest of the Middle East, you would be forever heralded for that legendary achievement.
Finally, what does he have to lose? Why not give it a shot? Maybe it takes an unhinged guy like Bush to make both sides listen. The Palestinians and the Israelis would be sure that when Bush says he might do something, he really might do it -- no matter how crazy it sounds. He's built good ballistic capital. The guy could go ballistic at any moment. So, it's best to make a deal and not piss him off.
I'm trying to make lemonade out of lemons here. This is not some sort of Trojan Horse advice that the conservatives are fond of (e.g. the Democrats better not fight us on this, otherwise they will seem weak on defense and no one will ever vote for them again). This is a genuine outreach to try to help the president.
Why? Because he's still my president. This is our country and our world. And I still care.