In the wake of President Bush's dramatic escalation of troops in Saudi Arabia, there are unmistakable signs that the initial public support enjoyed by the president after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait is starting to crumble.
Until now, domestic support has been firm for the twin pillars of Bush's declared policy - deployment of troops in the gulf to deter further Iraqi aggression, and the enforcement of the international economic embargo to bring about an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.A recent ABC News poll said that 51 percent of Americans support a U.S. attack, but only if Iraq mistreats U.S. hostages. Only 46 percent favor war if economic sanctions fail to force Iraq to leave Kuwait.
Richard Wirthlin, a Republican pollster, said that while Americans generally want to get tougher in the gulf, "that doesn't translate into a stronger commitment to use our military force directly."
Wirthlin and other political analysts see a strain of historical isolationism reasserting itself in the country. Some of that is apparently caused by Bush's failure to define the underlying principles America is being called on to defend in the gulf.
So far, the president has not articulated compelling reasons to justify the enormous human, political and economic cost of combat.
Not only that, politicians of both parties think that Bush has been delivering mixed messages, alternating threatening Iraq with imminent war and assuring audiences that he will not rush into war.
The result is that the American public has become increasingly baffled.
Members of Congress say that their constituent letters are running between 5-to-1 and 10-to-1 against hostilities in the gulf even though most supported Bush's initial moves.
As Sen. Bob Kerry, D-Neb., a Medal of Honor recipient who lost a leg in the Vietnam War, has said, "If ever there was an avoidable war, it is this one."
The administration needs to work less on the escalation of hostilities and more on negotiating a peaceful settlement.
The problem is that as the U.S. military role continues to grow, it becomes harder and harder to resolve the crisis. Bush says that the United States will never be satisfied without total withdrawal from Kuwait; and Saddam says that Iraq will never withdraw from Kuwait.
With such a massive military buildup in one part of the world, the question remaining is what happens if someone else does something somewhere else in the world that Bush finds equally unacceptable? What do we do then?
In this volatile situation, it is dangerous for the United States to have all its eggs in one basket.