There is one clear standard by which President Bush has asked, over and over, to be judged: his ability to keep us safe from rogue nations or terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, by any rational definition of that standard, his five-year administration has been an abysmal failure.

The quandary in which Bush finds himself regarding Iran’s apparent quest for nuclear weapons is only the latest example in an astonishing series of national security blunders.

First, he vacationed while a crescendo of intelligence warnings of imminent terrorist attack blossomed into the spectacle of Sept. 11, 2001. Then, he allowed the mastermind of those attacks, Osama bin Laden, to escape while diverting U.S. resources into Iraq to save the world from Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent WMDs. Now, tied down in Iraq’s civil strife, Bush holds no high cards in a dangerous poker match with Iran.

A once swaggering president, who so convincingly wielded a bullhorn and modeled a flight suit, now has assumed the pretzel pose of a supplicant attempting to cajole our old enemy in Tehran into dropping its nuclear ambitions while simultaneously initiating talks with Iran aimed at bailing us out in Iraq. After the fiasco of using the blunt instrument of military force to “democratize” Iraq, Bush now resorts to mild talk of U.N. sanctions on Iran, the very weapon he had derided in relation to quarantining Hussein. Bush’s nutty nuclear braggadocio on Tuesday — “all options are on the table” — was a sign of weakness, not strength, hobbled as he is by various self-created impediments.

One is that he has lost the trust of Americans, foreign leaders and even many Republicans by lying about Iraq — crying wolf, in essence — and then fumbling the occupation. Another invasion would be a tough sell, both here and abroad.

Two, Iran is, as Republican Sen. Richard Lugar put it subtly, “part of the energy picture.” In other words, it exports gobs of oil. U.S.-Iran tension already has sent crude prices above $70 a barrel. “I believe, for the moment, we ought to cool this one,” Lugar warned the White House. “We need to make more headway diplomatically to be effective.”

Three, the United States is highly dependent upon Iran-trained Shiite religious factions in Iraq for what is left of the tattered welcome mat Bush & Co. told us to expect when we came to overthrew Hussein. Key Iraqi Shiite leaders have stated they would support Iran in the event of a U.S. attack.

Cozying up to the Shiite fundamentalists in Iraq is a bargain with the devil, born of weakness, the pattern for this president. To find another example, look no further than the source of Iran’s latest claimed breakthrough in the pursuit of weapons-grade uranium. Last week, Iran’s confrontational president disclosed that his regime is “presently conducting research” on P-2 centrifuge technology that would allow quicker uranium enrichment. Nuclear experts, according to the New York Times, fear this is a serious indication that Tehran, as long suspected, has obtained P-2 technology from Pakistan, thanks to the global black-market nukes operation run for years by Abdul Qadeer Khan, “the father” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. U.N. inspectors in Iran also found instructional bomb-making sketches thought to have been supplied by Khan, who is now under “a loose form of house arrest,” according to the Times.

The grim irony in all this is that Pakistan never has been held accountable by the United States for Khan’s black-market nuclear proliferation racket, even though such a bold scheme could not have thrived without significant support from Pakistan’s powerful military leaders. Of course, Khan, who was pardoned by Pakistan’s military dictator, doesn’t have to worry that Bush is going to order the CIA to spirit him to Guantanamo Bay for some rough Dick Cheney-approved interrogations. Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia, is a tight ally of the White House, despite having previously supported Bin Laden’s old Afghan friends, the Taliban. Indeed, the Bush administration was so eager to secure the friendship of Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, it perversely ended the boycott imposed on that country in response to its development of a nuclear weapon.

There you have it — Hussein, who did not have a nuclear-weapons program and was fundamentally at odds with Bin Laden, now sits in prison, while the dictator of nukes-R-us Pakistan and the theocrats of Iran have had their power immeasurably strengthened by Bush’s policies. Go figure. Actually, it would appear the public already has, explaining why our fearless leader has fallen so far in the polls.

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