Monday, December 03, 2007

The rush to war, Rovespeak edition

Karl Rove refutes the old F. Scott Fitzgerald adage that there are no second acts in American lives. After crashing and burning in 2006 – insisting all the way to election day that the Republicans would hold the House and Senate – and after bailing out of his job as George W. Bush’s indispensable sidekick, he is now remarketing himself as a political seer and future memoirist, working the talk shows and writing a column for Newsweek.

The wisest course would be to simply ignore him, to consign him to history; the problem is that, befitting his status as the Ministry of Truth’s spinner emeritus, he persists in trying to flush history down the memory hole. In true Orwellian fashion, he has sought in recent days to rewrite the factual reality of autumn 2002, when (as those of us with cognitive empirical skills will certainly recall) the Bush team was on the march to war in Iraq and goading the Democratic Senate to get with the program as congressional elections loomed.

Five years later, however, that’s not how Rove chooses to remember events. Speaking with Charlie Rose on PBS during Thanksgiving week, and with a Washington Post reporter late last week, Rove now insists that the autumn rush to war was really propagated by...

The Democratic Senate.

What a revelation. Did you know that the Democrats – not the Bush planners and spinners – were really to blame for hustling America into one of the worst foreign policy miscalculations in U.S. history? The way I seem to remember it, the autumn ’02 rush to war had been a Bush production, preceded by a long buildup (Dick Cheney, Aug. 26: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”), and that the Democrats were in reaction mode, torn between defiance (which was politically risky, in the aftermath of 9/11) and acquiescence (do the war vote quickly, then pivot to domestic issues as the election drew near).

Perhaps we should simply assess this new take on history, in the actual Rovespeak.

On PBS, referring to the war authorization, he said: “The administration was opposed to voting on it in the fall of 2002…Because we didn’t think it belonged within the confines of the election. There was an election coming up in a matter of weeks. We thought it made (the war debate) too political. We wanted it outside the confines of it. It seemed to make things move too fast. There were things that needed to be done to bring along allies and potential allies abroad.”

In the Washington Post, he said: “For Democrats to suggest they didn’t want to vote on it before the election is disingenuous.” The vote schedule was set by the Democratic majority, and “we don’t control that.”

And on Fox News yesterday, Rove tried to buttress his spin by reciting a few autumn ’02 statements from Democratic leaders, all of which seemed to suggest that they were just as eager to wage war as the Bush team. (He conveniently omitted Democratic leader Tom Daschle’s remark of Sept. 10, 2002: “I don’t think we have much choice but to respect the decision – the request of any president, including this one.”)

I could suggest that Rove is still in denial mode (a common Bush team affliction over the years), and that therefore he’s prone to simply making stuff up, but on the latter point I’ll yield the floor to Ari Fleischer, the first-term Bush press secretary. Here’s what Fleischer told the Post, as reported on Saturday; referring to the push for a war authorization vote, “It was definitely the Bush administration that set it in motion and determined the timing, not the Congress. I think Karl in this instance just has his facts wrong.” (Naturally, when his quote was read to Rove yesterday on Fox News, he responded by digging deeper into denial mode: “I disagree with my colleague.”)

It should be easy enough to refute Rove simply by quoting the journalists who covered the war debate at the time; as John Bresnahan of Politico writes, “The White House pushed to hold that vote in October, just a month before the mid-term elections, and Democrats were forced to support it or risk losing their re-election campaigns. It was a bare-knuckled political power play by President Bush and GOP leaders in Congress.” But, for those of you who are skeptical of such refutations from the reality-based community, perhaps this one will hit home:

“My answer to the Congress is, they need to debate this issue and consult with us and get the issue done as quickly as possible. If I were running for office (in November 2002), I’m not sure how I’d explain to the American people – say, ‘vote for me, and oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I’m going to wait for somebody else to act.”

That was Bush himself, in an exchange with reporters on a Sept. 13, 2002, holding the Democrats’ feet to the flame with the election just seven weeks away, essentially giving them the choice of voting for war or being tagged as wimps.

Five days later, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld told Congress that the Bush team had all the WMD evidence it needed: “'The dots are there for all to connect. If they aren't good enough, rest assured they will only be good enough after another (terrorist) disaster….Delaying a vote in Congress would send the wrong message.'' And on the following day, Bush sent his war resolution language to the Senate, and said: “We’ve got to move before the elections.”

Since it is indeed settled fact that the Bush team framed the autumn ’02 war agenda – as Bush chief of staff Andrew Card said at the time, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” – we can only wonder why Rove is bothering to cut and run from the historical record.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Whereas on PBS he claimed that the Bush team hadn’t tried to politicize national security in the ’02 elections, he seems to have forgotten his own declaration – in a winter ’02 speech - that the Bush team would surely politicize national security in the ’02 elections. Referring to the war on terror, he said on Jan. 18, 2002: “We can also go to the country on this issue because (voters) trust the Republican party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.”

In other words, Karl Rove is cutting and running from himself.


So Mitt Romney is intending to deliver The Speech after all. His defense/explanation of his Mormon faith is slated for Thursday - a clear signal that his camp is increasingly nervous about his standing among religious conservative GOP primary voters.

Can Mitt do for Mormonism what JFK did for Catholicism in 1960? Not necessarily, as I suggested in a recent print column: "Whereas Kennedy mollified skeptics by declaring that 'I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,' Romney can ill afford to say that. Conservative Christian voters, who wield great influence in Republican primaries, do not believe in 'absolute' separation. Romney would commit political suicide if he echoed JFK; nor would he want to, for personal reasons. He has repeatedly signaled that religion belongs in the public square, and that the tenets of his faith have infused his conservative politics. Those arguments might be enough to propel him through the primaries; the general election might be another story."