What shall we call this mangy, ill-tempered cat that's just been let out of the bag? Not "the V-word" -- that would be a hopeless cliche. Maybe just "the Analogy," capitalizing the word to indicate the beast's unique status and power. The Analogy is a harbinger -- the same kind of omen that Creedence Clearwater Revival once called "a bad moon risin' " -- and now it's on the prowl. No presidential misadventure is safe.
I'm talking about the Vietnam Analogy, which Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel loosed on Sunday. "We are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam," Hagel said on ABC's "This Week." "The longer we stay, the more problems we are going to have."
Hagel is hardly the first person to use the Analogy, but coming from such a prominent Republican -- one who happens to be both a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a possible presidential candidate in 2008 -- Hagel's words serve as an incantation. Hagel has put the Analogy in play, and that's nothing but bad news for George W. Bush and his policy in Iraq.
Which is a good thing, since the president's policy amounts to the belief that if he concentrates really hard -- and stays in shape by regularly doing the Tour de Crawford on his mountain bike -- he'll be able to summon a miracle.
The thing is, he'll need more than one. Let's review the state of play:
Iraq is beset with an insurgency that defies Bush administration attempts to belittle its extent or staying power. Vice President Cheney's smug assertion that the violence was in its "last throes" has become a morbid joke. The insurgents -- mostly Sunni Muslims, Baathist die-hards and foreign jihadists -- are getting more effective at their mayhem, not less. Their roadside bombs are deadlier than ever now that they are somehow getting their hands on higher-quality explosives.
Shiites and Kurds are making progress toward organizing a new Iraq, but it's a far cry from the latter-day Athens envisioned by the neocon architects of the war. It looks as if the new Iraq, or at least the biggest chunk of it, will have an organic relationship with next-door Iran, another charter member of the Axis of Evil. So one result of invading Iraq, which had no weapons of mass destruction, was to drive its Shiite majority closer to Iran, which is doing its best to build a nuclear bomb. Gee, that really worked out.
The new Iraq will also be teeming with terrorists. The nascent Iraqi government is hardly likely to impose order, since 138,000 well-trained and well-equipped American troops can't do the job. The administration never sent enough troops to occupy and pacify the country, but now the U.S. military is stretched so thin that many analysts say the administration will have trouble maintaining the current presence, much less augmenting it.
Sending more troops isn't a real-world option anyway, not with public opinion undergoing a tectonic shift. In a Newsweek poll conducted at the beginning of August, 61 percent of those Americans surveyed disapproved of the way Bush is handling Iraq; when asked whether the Iraq war has made Americans safer from terrorism, 64 percent said no. A full 50 percent said they would not support having "large numbers of U.S. military personnel" in Iraq beyond one more year. Only 26 percent echoed the president's view that U.S. troops should remain "as long as it takes."
We didn't even get any oil out of the deal. Remember how much of the war's cost was going to be repaid by a generous new Athenian-style government from its bountiful oil revenues? Because of the insurgency and the general state of disorganization, the Iraqis can barely keep the oil pumps and ports functioning at a minimal level. How much did you pay the last time you filled up?
The Democratic opposition is in its usual disarray, but even the Democrats can't blow this one -- a Republican president mired in an unpopular war with no end in sight and no real plan for an exit. Republicans are looking nervously at the 2006 midterm elections. Keeping U.S. forces at current levels for four more years, as a top Army official predicted recently, would be "complete folly," Hagel said. "It would bog us down. . . . It won't be four years. We need to be out."
And right outside Bush's ranch, Cindy Sheehan's antiwar protest continues in her absence. It's as if the Analogy were stalking the bike-riding president like a hungry bobcat.