WASHINGTON – As usual, the rhetoric surrounding the war in Iraq is about two elections – one there and one here. President Bush and the Republicans need the first one to succeed to have a chance of surviving the second.
With his new “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” the president isn’t really aiming for “victory” in the conventional sense. Nothing is “conventional” in a war against Islamist terrorists, and Iraq will remain a breeding ground for them regardless. Rather, Bush’s goal is to begin a draw down of our troops before next year’s Congressional elections. To do that, he needs the Dec. 15 election in Iraq to go well, with Sunni participation. Then the troop reductions can begin.
The weak “cut and run.” This president, nudged by Karl Rove, will trim and tiptoe. That way, White House advisors hope Bush can pay homage to the Cheney neocon vision and save his presidency at the same time.
At Annapolis, the president was speaking to audiences in both countries, but primarily to the one in Mesopotamia. Part of his purpose was to convince Iraqis that we still mean business there, and that our own voters don’t have the political leverage to demand an immediate, mass exodus of American troops.
White House aides say Bush’s speech is only the first of a series between now and Dec. 15. That’s a good indication of who the real audience for them is.
Bring out the magnifying glasses
As for the ’06 elections here, the stakes are enormous in both countries for a simple reason: subpoena power.
If anything, the Democrats’ hunger is growing to probe such questions as: why we went to Iraq; how we bungled the planning for the aftermath of the war; and who has profited from our presence there.
But Democrats have been blocked from serious (and headline-grabbing) investigative hearings by the Republicans’ control of Congress. The GOP often has refused to issue subpoenas or call witnesses to testify under oath.
Secret joint committees, journalists and, indirectly, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald have all been looking into the roots and rationale for the war in Iraq. If the Democrats get control of either half of the Congress, expect a flood of subpoenas, a parade of high-profile hearings, and constitutional confrontations over access to administration documents that might show “who knew what when.”
The last two years of the Bush presidency will be nothing more than an investigative rehash of the central decision of the first two, which was to go to war in Iraq.
A 'new' morning in America?
And so what are the chances that the Democrats can win back one of the two chambers?
The other day I bumped into the semi-legendary Grover Norquist, the tax lobbyist and conservative activist who is bosom buddies with Karl Rove.
Norquist was, not surprisingly, imperturbably optimistic about the GOP’s prospects in ’06. “This year was a perfect storm of factors that hurt us: Katrina, the war, Harriet Miers, gasoline prices,” he told me. “The good news for us is that the election is NEXT year.”
Miers was a mistake, not a betrayal of the conservative base, he said. Lessons Were Learned after Katrina. Gasoline prices won’t skyrocket next summer. Norquist didn’t say why he thought this would be true (but I have my own idea: the oil companies and the Saudis don’t want the Democrats back in power anymore than Dick Cheney does).
Finally, Norquist said, the situation in Iraq will improve. The election will work, the U.S. troop numbers will be going in the right direction – that is, downward. “We’re not looking at a big change in Congress,” he said. Unless, he added, things didn’t go well in Iraq.