Some presidents, such as Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, are political sailors -- they tack with the wind, reaching difficult policy objectives through bipartisan maneuvering and pulse-taking. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, was deemed a "chameleon on plaid," changing colors regularly to control the zeitgeist of the moment. Other presidents are submariners, refusing to zigzag in rough waters, preferring to go from Point A to Point B with directional certitude. Harry S. Truman and Reagan are exemplars of this modus operandi, and they are the two presidents Bush has tried to emulate.
The problem for Bush is that certitude is only a virtue if the policy enacted is proven correct. Most Americans applaud Truman's dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they achieved the desired effect: Japan surrendered. Reagan's anti-communist zeal -- including increased defense budgets and Star Wars -- is only now perceived as positive because the Soviet Union started to unravel on his watch.
Nobody has accused Bush of flinching. After 9/11, he decided to circumvent the United Nations and declare war on Iraq. The principal pretext was that Baghdad supposedly was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. From the get-go, the Iraq war was a matter of choice. Call it Mr. Bush's War. Like a high-stakes poker player pushing in all his chips on one hand, he bet the credibility of the United States on the notion that Sunnis and Shiites wanted democracy, just like the Poles and the Czechs during the Cold War.