As I contended this morning in a new print column, nobody should assume that the war planners in the Bush administration will budge an inch on Iraq even if the ’06 elections signify a massive public repudiation of their behavior in Iraq.
It’s clear that the people running this war – most notably, Vice President Cheney – view Tuesday’s event, in which voters exercise their traditional democratic right to have a voice in the affairs of their government, as an irreverent trifle that will have no bearing whatsoever on how they choose to proceed in Iraq.
And it's clear how the Bush team plans to spin a bad election night. If the Democrats retake the House, the team will merely say: So what?
Cheney virtually said this today on ABC News. When it was pointed out to him that the vast majority of Americans have broadly turned against the war (either because of the Bush administration’s inept execution, or because it should not have been initiated in the first place), Cheney simply replied:
“It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter – in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right. We’re not running for office. We’re doing what we think is right.”
It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter….That remark encapsulates the governing philosophy of this administration – that, as an expression of the public’s desire for accountability, this election will not matter. Cheney was clearly signaling that, even if Bush is humbled by the voters on Tuesday night, he will not humble himself by substantively shaking up his approach to Iraq.
In other words, anyone who thinks that Bush will react in that fashion is probably dreaming. Take David Gergen, for example. He has served in virtually every White House going back three decades, most visibly for Ronald Reagan. He wrote the other day that if the Democrats win big on Nov. 7, Bush would be smart to humble himself. Here’s the speech he envisioned Bush delivering:
“My fellow Americans, I have always believed in the wisdom of the people. You were the ones who first gave me a chance to become your president and by your overwhelming vote, you returned me to this office. Now, in your wisdom, you have spoken again—this time to send a clear message that you want a change of course in Iraq. You have sent many new Democrats here to Washington to carry that message for you. I have heard you loud and clear and I respect what you say. Therefore, I am embarking tonight on a serious re-evaluation of our policies in Iraq and I am asking Democrats in Congress to join me in shaping that policy.”
Don’t bet on anything like that happening, no matter how politically isolated Bush might be. And there are indeed fresh indications this weekend of the extent of his isolation. It’s one thing if Democratic and even independent voters dismiss the Bush team as incompetent, because, at this point, that’s to be expected. But when the neoconservative thinkers, who wanted the Iraq war in the first place, start publicly complaining about Bush team incompetence…well, that’s worth noting.
Most of the leading neoconservatives will speak up in the January issue of Vanity Fair, but the magazine has released excerpts. Here’s neocon and former Pentagon insider Kenneth Adelman, who predicted before the war that Iraq would be a “cakewalk.” He sounds like he belongs in a Democratic TV ad: “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.”
Here’s neocon Richard Perle, surveying the bad decision-making and then contending, “At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.” And one other little detail: he now thinks that maybe we shouldn’t have launched this war after all. In his words, “Could we have managed that (Saddam Hussein) threat by means other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have.”
But, on ABC, Cheney dismissed them as well: “I think there is no question that it is a tough war, but it is also the right thing to do.” So the unhappy hawks don’t “matter,” either. (Perle and some other neocons issued a statement today, released by the White House, complaining that Vanity Fair had broken a promise not to release any quote excerpts prior to the election. Perle also wanted to make it clear that he opposes a precipitious withdrawal. Adelman did not sign the statement.)
Cheney, in his ABC interview, also managed to undercut some prime administration spin. When the topic of World War II came up, he said that he rejected any "analogy" between the fight against fascism in the '40s and the fight against terrorists today.
And yet, back in late August, the administration's entire PR strategy was based on drawing exactly that analogy. For instance, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld specifically invoked the Nazi threat in an Aug. 30 speech, and said: "I recount that history because, once again, we face similar challenges..." Bush invoked the same analogy that week, in a speech to the American legion. But it would not have been in character for Cheney to acknowledge that what he was saying now was flatly contradicted by what the administration was saying before. To acknowledge such a thing would be tantamount to saying that somebody was wrong.
All told, it’s clear that even if the Democrats take the Hill this week, they will have a tough time in ‘07 dealing with a White House that has stacked the sandbags against all critics and retains unshakable faith in its own rightness.