Various administration spokesmen have been cautioning us to remember that the campaign in Iraq is not over, and they are of course correct. But it will be even more important for the administration to make it clear that the war on terrorism will not end even when this campaign does.
That doesn’t mean that America should now launch wars to change the regime of Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or any other country. (And contrary to the paranoid visions of Maureen Dowd et al, it’s extremely unlikely that President Bush will do any such thing.) We may be able to have a positive influence on these countries through forms of pressure short of war, the exemplary force of our operation in Iraq, and, one hopes, the spillover effects of Iraqi liberalization.
What it does mean is that the administration cannot relax in foreign policy, cannot turn its focus inward, cannot return to September 10. There will be plenty of people — more journalists than Republican strategists, but some of each — urging Bush to pivot from foreign to domestic policy. They will claim that this turn is the only way for Bush to avoid his father’s mistake of looking more concerned about the rest of the world than about conditions at home. Andrew Sullivan has shrewdly observed that voters next year “may warm to a Democrat who promises them relief from the drama of the war on terror.” Bush will have to resist any calls for a “return to normalcy.”
Coming home would not even be politically wise. Although some Republicans have fantasized otherwise, success in Iraq is not going to translate into success in Washington. It won’t get Bush’s judges confirmed or his tax cuts enacted. Indeed, it may dim the chances for his agenda by making the Democrats more intent on denying him domestic achievements. If Bush stakes everything on a legislative agenda, he could end up looking like a success abroad and a failure at home — which is to say, exactly like his father.