For President Bush, when national security is the salient issue, he is strong politically. Even those who find his peacetime speeches about domestic matters uninspiring, may feel he has become a new man in wartime leadership.
Given a weakened economy, Bush 43 (like Bush 41) may have to seek re-election in 2004 on the basis of a successful war. The twin wars against terrorism and against the Iraqi regime are his strongest suit.
Americans are a remarkably patriotic people and give strong support to their forces. Tax payers, though stingy on welfare, are lavish on military hardware and pensions. Bush himself, sometimes ill at ease with the press, lights up around soldiers and firemen.
Public approval will hold up, if forces continue to be successful, if casualities remain light, and if US forces in Iraq can be greatly reduced within a few months.
Despite the risk of continuing casualties from suicidal attacks on peacekeeping troops, these conditions will probably be a reality.
Therefore, white male voters and conservative voters especially will give Bush a net gain from the war. As he well knows from his father's example, his main risk in 2004 is of appearing to neglect domestic policy and the economy.
Bush's national security doctrine is the most radical in years: it calls for preventive war. This means invading a sovereign state just because we fear it may threaten us in the future.
The obvious fear among some Europeans is that this may be unfounded in the case of Iraq, a country that couldn't even successfully invade Iran in 1981 or Saudi Arabia in 1991. In the middle east, the US may even appear to be more dangerous than Iraq. Invading a country just in case it becomes a threat to us, and forcibly changing its obnoxious government -- no matter how justified with Iraq -- sets a dangerous precedent in the eyes of some other nations.
This doctrine depends on other countries not banding together to resist the US for fear of being invaded themselves. US leaders must ensure that it does not repeat the mistake of ancient Athenian democracy, which pressed other states so hard to join its Delian empire that some joined its mortal enemy, Sparta.
That is one reason the alliance with the United Kingdom and the appeals to the United Nations are vital moderating influences.