IS IT INCOMPETENCE?….OR WORSE?….Dan Drezner, who is considerably more sympathetic to the Bush administration than I am, has this to say today:

This administration has a peculiar pathology. It focuses like a laser beam on a key priority for several months, ignoring any criticism from outsiders. It then achieves its priority, earning plaudits for gutsiness and discipline. Immediately afterwards, however, drift sets in, unexpected complications arise, events beyond the Bush team’s control create new obstacles to policy implementation, and things appear to fall apart.

The policy drift has occurred four times in this administration — after the passage of the 2001 tax cut, after the fall of the Taliban, after the 2002 mid-year election, and, alas, after the victory in Iraq.

This is why the question of motivation in politicians is so important. Do these things happen because the Bush administration is just not very competent? Or do they happen because they never really believed in their policies in the first place?

Frankly, I can forgive a lack of competence. If Bush is truly dedicated to doing the right thing in Iraq, but it’s just taking longer than he expected to get things right ? well, in that case it’s only a matter of time until he finds the right formula. The world being what it is, I can live with that.

But it sure doesn’t seem that way. I tried awfully hard to give Bush the benefit of the doubt before the war ? not easy given my personal contempt for his policies ? but I finally concluded that he wasn’t truly serious about rebuilding Iraq after the war. Competence may indeed be an issue, but unlike Dan, I don’t think it’s the whole story.

And it’s a peculiar story, too. It’s one thing for me to find fault with Bush when he does things I just flatly disagree with, but it’s quite another in a case like this where I actually agree with his stated policy. Not only do I think we should commit substantial resources to Iraq, and not only has Bush claimed that he wants to do this too, but it’s also in our best interests to do this since a stable, successful Iraq would be an enormous benefit to America in the Middle East. So why not pull out all the stops? Instead of a highly promoted speaking tour to push his tax plan, why not a highly promoted speaking tour to convince the American public that they should be ready and willing to support a long, difficult, and costly postwar reconstruction plan?

Unfortunately, the only answer I can come up with is that Bush isn’t really very serious about it. He thinks that committing lots of money and lots of troops over a long period is an electoral loser, so he’s not willing to fight for it.

What other plausible explanation is there? I know I have some readers who support Bush, so what do you say? What do you think explains all this?