For a while it seemed that Bush's chickens would not come home to roost until he had flown the coop, leaving a vast wasteland of unparalleled blunders for his successor to clean up. That's been the president's strikingly transparent plan for at least a year -- Come on, boys, hop on these powder kegs with me and let's weigh down the lids till I escape to Crawford for good, where I'll brag of the stability I left behind, and blame the subsequent, inexorable convulsions on the new guys.
And you have to give the devil his due. For a while, it looked like he just might pull it off -- that he would indeed keep enough assorted fireballs in the air, that he would whack a sufficient number of moles, that he would weigh down the power-kegs just long enough to dump them, yet unexploded, on someone else.
But fate -- that conspiracy of the inevitable -- has a way of biting one in the ass at the most inopportune times, especially when one has contributed all the fateful decisions. And as I write, it's taking a huge chunk out of Bush's butt. He may, after all, not make it to the finish line of 2009 quite so cleanly.
As the Washington Post reports this morning, "President Bush held an emergency meeting of his top foreign policy aides yesterday to discuss the deepening crisis in Pakistan, as administration officials and others explored whether Thursday's assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto marks the beginning of a new Islamic extremist offensive that could spread beyond Pakistan and undermine the U.S. war effort in neighboring Afghanistan."
His house of cards is being scattered by tangible blowback, and even Bush is aware of it. For him and his co-bunglers, it's serious panic time.
"They are concerned that continued instability eventually will spill over and intensify the fighting in Afghanistan" -- you think? -- "which has spiked in recent months as the Taliban has strengthened and expanded its operations. Unrest in Pakistan and increasing fuel prices have already boosted the cost of food in Afghanistan, making it more likely that hungry Afghans will be lured by payments from the Taliban to participate in attacks, a U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said."
Then paraphrasing the officer: "If there is indeed a new challenge by Islamic militants emerging in Pakistan, then the United States will have to do whatever it can to support Musharraf."
So we're back to square one, the principal occupant of which, with Bush's support, has been at the problematic core of so many firestorms since the beginning.
But it was the words of two U.S. officials who've served in Afghanistan that unwittingly revealed the deeper problem.
Said one: "My prediction is, Musharraf will go into a bunker mentality and be nicer to the Muslims. He goes through the pretenses of crackdown but never follows through."
Said the other: "Pakistan isn't really engaged in a fight against terror. One of the mistakes amongst many U.S. policymakers is to project the American construct of a war on terror onto the Pakistani regime's struggle for survival. There are some congruencies between the two, but even more differences."
Sorry, fellas, but the congruencies smother the differences.
Ever since George W. Bush hit his trifecta in 2001, his much-vaunted "war on terror" has never "really engaged in a fight against terror." There was a "pretense of crackdown" immediately following 9/11, but no critical "follow through," because Mr. Bush's wars have been, above all, politically domestic ones since the run-up to the 2002 elections.
And now the unintended, and unattended, consequences are swaggering around large, carrying the biggest club imaginable. Looping back to the above-quoted Army officer: "Pakistan must take drastic action against the Taliban in its midst or we will face the prospect of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of al-Qaeda -- a threat far more dangerous and real than Hussein's arsenal ever was."
Which further loops us back to the almost purely political since 2002 -- hypernationalistic distractions at home in the pursuit of a permanent Republican majority that in fact have embodied Mr. Bush's "war on terror," and which now have been reduced to his mere "struggle for survival."
I pity the poor schmuck who inherits this mess -- and it's looking like it'll be even messier much sooner, what with all those chickens running around, finally coming home to roost.