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Bill Orton
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September 24, 2003

General Wesley Clark
Former NATO Commander
Gen. Wesley K. Clark,
of Arkansas

The President's Most Feared Foe

by Bill Orton

    As George Bush fights for passage of his $87 billion spending bill for the war in Iraq, it seems that the President may finally be facing his most feared foe: the proverbial previously-unnamed Democrat who polls say can win next year's race for the White House.

    Since as far back as February, voters have said they were ready to dump the President in favor of a centrist Democrat, with the hitch being that the winner would not be from among the pool of already-announced candidates.

    Each time in head-to-head matchups with the current crop of candidates, polls consistently showed George Bush beating the major Democratic hopefuls.

    That is, until now.

    The American people seem to have finally selected their previously "unnamed Democrat" who alone could beat the President.

    That person appears to be Wes Clark.

    According to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll conducted Sept. 19-to-21, retired four-star General Wesley K. Clark would beat President George W. Bush in a head-to-head matchup by 49-to-46 percent. He also leads the entire pack of 10 candidates running for their party's nomination.

    If polls are to be believed, General Clark's numbers are not the only warning signs that this President may be in serious danger of following his father to defeat for reelection.

    Precisely as the President struggles to justify his $87 billion Iraq tab, the Gallup Organization reports that only 10% of all Americans of perceived that "for all intents and purposes" the war with Iraq is over.

    Gallup's findings show that support for the Iraq mission has dropped from 63% to just 50% in the one-month period between late-August and mid-September.

    Also disturbing to the White House must be the highest disapproval rating yet recorded for this President, with fully 47% of all respondents saying they do not agree with Mr. Bush's overall job performance.

    Certainly a strong President does not govern by polls, but used an an indicator, the Gallup results on the war and presidential performance, along with the matchup against General Wesley Clark, shows that foreign affairs are not buffeting this president from fierce winds that could swamp his boat next November.

    Indeed, record disapproval ratings seems to follow a public that is souring on the war. many view the ongoing conflict in Iraq as lacking clear goals, costing too much money and putting American lives in constant risk with no end in sight.

    Have the chickens have come home to roost?

    Richard Nixon found out from his secret invasion of Cambodia that a president who relies upon secrecy and distortion to conduct war ultimately divides the nation and blots their page in the history books.

    Lyndon Johnson's experience in Vietnam showed that a president who deludes himself over the nature of a conflict or distorts the true face of the enemy winds up sending our brave American fighting men and women into harm's way without the clarity of mission needed for victory.

    And as every American President since Woodrow Wilson has learned, our fate as a power is always linked to the coordinated efforts of our historical allies.

    Summing up the polls, it isn't too much to ask whether this government has lost the prestige and credibility needed to bring other nations to the table or to convince congress to keep the checkbook open for endless operations abroad.

    Maybe it took a retired general -- that elusive previously "unnamed Democrat" who could beat the President -- to demonstrate just how far our President has fallen.

    But if Gen. Wesley Clark can convince voters that he will herald a national political revival that restores our prestige abroad, recovers this economy and recaptures a government that is shamelessly beholden to the very rich, then he shall remain the President's most feared foe.

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Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.