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Maximum Leader 

The strains of war are beginning to bedevil President Bush, according to USA Today. The recent story is a fascinating account of various friends and associates' take on Bush's thinking and behavior as the war (probably to his surprise) goes beyond a three-day wonder. A relevant -- and unnerving -- excerpt:

Bush believes he was called by God to lead the nation at this time, says Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a close friend who talks with Bush every day. His history degree from Yale makes him mindful of the importance of the moment. He knows he's making "history-changing decisions," Evans says.

The thought of another assault on the United States horrifies Bush. Aides say he believes history and heaven will judge him by his ability to prevent one. While Iraq threatens to be an ongoing problem, the domestic economy continues its gross domestic product of nothing but bad news. Unemployment is heading up, consumer spending and optimism languish, and a double-dip recession is probably in progress.

Whether you think of him as a cynical politician with his eyes on the prize of a second term or as our wise, benevolent leader, Bush is facing some hard times ahead -- even if we swiftly produce Saddam's corpse and declare victory in Iraq.

Sympathetic readers of the USA Today piece couldn't help but want to look Bush firmly in the eye and tell him, lighten up. You don't control the U.S. economy, and you should stop trying. You shouldn't be trying to control Iraq. You, and the government you represent, have taken on burdens and responsibilities that should not be borne, by you or anyone.

Beware the purple, George. Its weight is too heavy for any man. There's a reason empires of old, from Rome to Japan, associated the emperor with divinity. With the hubristic grasping of power and responsibility inevitably involved in such absurd and criminal assertions of power over the rest of the world, it would take a god not to crack and fail. And while God may or may not be on George W.'s side, George W. himself is no god.

While some deny that the American hyperpower can fairly be called imperial, the proposed plan for Iraq's future, as reported in the UK Guardian, has Bush "seeking, as an unashamed objective, to get into the empire business, aiming to rule a post-Saddam Iraq directly through an American governor-general, the retired soldier Jay Garner... Washington's plan for Baghdad consists of 23 ministries -- each one to be headed by an American. This is a form of foreign rule so direct we have not seen its like since the last days of the British Empire. It represents a break with everything America has long believed in."

You may say this description only shows the Guardian's anti-American bias, but why are so many of the president's admirers, as well as many self-described fans of American power, urging the nation to take up the imperial burden, and even recommending a specifically "pagan ethos" to keep order throughout the realm?

And what to make of the throwaway detail from the USA Today piece that, "On March 17, before he delivered a 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam, Bush summoned congressional leaders to the White House. They expected a detailed briefing, but the president told them he was notifying them only because he was legally required to do so and then left the room. They were taken aback, and some were annoyed."

They should all have been more than annoyed; they should have been appalled and probably horrified. This is not a man who respects the nature and powers of his circumscribed role in a representative republic. The entire USA Today story presents a picture of a man drunk with power -- and not even a joyful, hearty drunk, but a moaning, depressive one.

I say to my president: The weight of the world is heavy. No one man, no one nation, should try to carry it. Let it go, George. It's not worth it. It's killing you. Among others.

Doherty's commentary originally appeared on Reason.com. Public Eye, which usually appears in this space, will return next week.

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