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Of course, politics is never as simple as all that. Reality forces even the most stubborn politicians to make U-turns and modifications and in the next four years, Bush will have to spend much of his time dealing with the unpleasant realities he spent the past two campaign years denying. There are at least four titanic "reality-based" problems that this "faith-based" President now confronts. First, the U.S. does not have the military resources to continue an expansive, unilateral foreign policy; we may not even have the resources to maintain our troop strength in Iraq at its current level for very long. Second, we don't have the money to fund any of Bush's domestic plans--certainly not the privatization of Social Security, which has an up-front cost of $1 trillion. Third, Democrats are furious at the bilious tone of the Bush campaign and in no mood to cooperate on anything. The hyperpartisanship will continue to be fed by an increasingly divided and overheated media. Finally, Bush is sitting on a volcano in his own party. The vaunted discipline of the Republicans allowed only a few premonitory rumblings during the presidential election, but there is explosive anger among traditional G.O.P. fiscal conservatives--and also among those in the party who believe the war in Iraq was either wrong from the start or stupidly executed. "I've been biting my tongue," said a prominent Republican who supported the war but is "disgusted" by the execution. "I'll give Bush a week or so after the election, but then I'm going to let him have it."
Iraq, by most accounts, continues to disintegrate. In the week before the U.S. election, an Iraqi national security aide to interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi allowed that 5% of the recently trained Iraqi troops were probably terrorist infiltrators. "I love David Petraeus," a retired four-star general told me, referring to the U.S. officer in charge of training the Iraqi force. "But you can't train a soldier in six weeks. And you can't motivate a soldier who doesn't have a real government to fight for. It might change for the better if we can hold credible elections--a big if, with the emphasis on credible."
The fate of Iraq may be determined by the answer to a larger question: Will the President continue on the abrasive, unilateral path of his first term, or will he seek, as he implied to Kofi Annan, a more ameliorative approach now that he has been re-elected. A key may be the fate of Donald Rumsfeld. He wants to stay on at the Pentagon, but the President may decide that a fresh start requires the sacking of the man who presided over the Abu Ghraib abuses, the no-bid Halliburton contracts and the post-Saddam planning disaster. The "legacy" Republicans believe it is an absolute necessity for Bush to replace his current foreign-policy team, swapping the neoconservative idealists who provided the rationale for invading Iraq for more pragmatic, traditional conservatives. "But I don't think it's going to happen," a member of George H.W. Bush's Administration told me. "Not so long as Dick is Vice President."