The weekend after the statue of Saddam Hussein fell, Kenneth Adelman and a couple of other promoters of the Iraq war gathered at Vice President Cheney’s residence to celebrate. The invasion had been the “cakewalk” Adelman predicted. Cheney and his guests raised their glasses, toasting President Bush and victory. “It was a euphoric moment,” Adelman recalled.

Forty-three months later, the cakewalk looks more like a death march, and Adelman has broken with the Bush team. He had an angry falling-out with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this fall. He and Cheney are no longer on speaking terms. And he believes that “the president is ultimately responsible” for what Adelman now calls “the debacle that was Iraq.”

Adelman, a former Reagan administration official and onetime member of the Iraq war brain trust, is only the latest voice from inside the Bush circle to speak out against the president or his policies. Heading into the final chapter of his presidency, fresh from the sting of a midterm election defeat, Bush finds himself with fewer and fewer friends. Some of the strongest supporters of the war have grown disenchanted, former insiders are registering public dissent and Republicans on Capitol Hill blame him for losing Congress.

A certain weary crankiness sets in with any administration after six years. By this point in Bill Clinton’s tenure, bitter Democrats were competing to denounce his behavior with an intern even as they were trying to fight off his impeachment. Ronald Reagan was deep in the throes of the Iran-contra scandal. But Bush’s strained relations with erstwhile friends and allies take on an extra edge of bitterness amid the dashed hopes of the Iraq venture.

“There are a lot of lives that are lost,” Adelman said in an interview last week. “A country’s at stake. A region’s at stake. This is a gigantic situation. . . . This didn’t have to be managed this bad. It’s just awful.”

The sense of Bush abandonment accelerated during the final weeks of the campaign with the publication of a former aide’s book accusing the White House of moral hypocrisy and with Vanity Fair quoting Adelman, Richard N. Perle and other neoconservatives assailing White House leadership of the war.

Since the Nov. 7 elections, Republicans have pinned their woes on the president.

“People expect a level of performance they are not getting,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said in a speech. Many were livid that Bush waited until after the elections to oust Rumsfeld.

c/o-: Peter Baker; Washington Post

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