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Even Democrats won't beat around Bush on threats to national security.

Byline: By David Williamson Western Mail

President bush's love of running and mountain-biking in extreme conditions is well-documented.

But even his administration's best friends must admit that the White House is wheezing. The loss of both Houses of Congress in the mid-term elections was a humiliation.

A team that prided itself on scratching where the electorate itched misjudged the strength of flood defences in New Orleans and resistance in Iraq. But incredibly, now may not be the time to write Bush's epitaph.

Democrats know that the public is sick of polarised ideological posturing. They do not want to be seen as the guardians of elitist, urban and secular dogma, and - as Hillary Clinton has done in her time in the Senate - may embrace opportunities for bipartisan progress.

Immigration is the issue on which the White House and the newly blue Congress are most likely to work together. Bush drew fire from the right of his party (who literally want to build a fence along the Mexican border) the last time he attempted to find a way to bring officially illegal immigrants into the economy.

But one defining aspect of his presidency remains the threat of international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Supporters of Israel are adamant that Iran cannot be permitted to join the nuclear club. The wilfully provocative comments about the Holocaust by President Ahmadinejad have instantly elevated him into the position of international pariah number one.

The most recent scholarship about Saddam Hussein's decisions in the lead-up to the Iraq war suggest he was convinced an American invasion force would never enter Baghdad - why would they smash open a hornet's nest? Instead, he lived in fear of a Shiite uprising or a military coup, and his refusal to make it absolutely clear he had no WMD was part of a strategy to intimidate Iran.

These disastrous tactics resulted in United States and Britain embarking on one of the most spectacular military adventures since Vietnam and Suez.

Ahmadinejad's goal may be to bridge the historic divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims and establish Iran as the new centre of gravity for the Middle East, eclipsing Saudi Arabia with the kudos which anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric brings. But if the American news media reports that a state led by a Holocaust-denying Muslim fundamentalist is on the verge of acquiring nuclear missiles, Republican and Democrat lawmakers alike will start getting emails from horrified voters demanding something be done.

Presidential contenders in Congress today are looking for an opportunity to prove they have the prerequisite muscle and machismo to lead the free world.

Iraq-style 'nation-building' in Iran may be off the agenda, but there are plenty of alpha males prepared to loudly advocate the use of overwhelming force.

Bush's days as a maestro conducting the domestic agenda may be over but he is the commander in chief. There is every chance he will go out with a bang.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 7, 2006
Words:490
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