Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The lame duck chronicles

We interrupt the campaign news to bring you the latest quackings of our lame duck.

Seriously, amidst all the historic doings in the Democratic presidential race, with three more contests on tap for tonight, we do need to remember that President Bush is still on the job and wreaking havoc. Luckily for him, the multiple failures of his administration are drawing scant attention these days; most Americans have tuned him out, and the media is focused on the race to succeed him. But, lest we allow him to slip below the radar, some occasional coverage seems warranted.

Here's one little episode. This past weekend, Bush surfaced for nearly an hour on Fox News Sunday. At one point, he was asked whether his ambitious quest to democratize the Middle East had been undercut by the well-documented incompetence of his own war team, as evidenced by the inept occupation of Iraq. In other words, he was asked whether he had given democratization a bad name.

Specifically, host Chris Wallace said, "The idea is, that the principles you advanced were in at least some cases undermined by the way they were executed." Then Wallace buttressed his question by quoting one of Bush's former national security aides. He continued, "Kori Schake, who was a professor at West Point and served on your National Security Council, wrote this: 'I fear that the biggest foreign policy legacy of the Bush administration will be that it delegitimized its own strategy...'"

When that quote flashed on the TV screen, all I could think was, "Poor Kori Schake. She's in for it now." Sure enough, Bush dismissed her as inconsequential. Actually, it was worse than that: "Well, I don't know whether this person - sorry, I don't know who that person is."

Let's give Bush a little help: Kori Schake served him for three years on the National Security Council, as Director of Defense Strategy and Requirements.

She has also taught at West Point, taught at the National Defense University, held a fellowship at a conservative think tank, and worked on the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff when it was chaired by Colin Powell.

It's certainly possible that Bush has no clue who she is, since he doesn't breach his bubble very often. But here's what he was really saying: She's somebody I don't know, therefore her opinion is worth zilch.

In truth, of course, it has long been documented that Bush's democratization dream was fatally undermined by poor execution. The latest evidence is vividly rendered in the documentary film No End in Sight, which features a host of disillusioned Bush aides speaking on the record about the ineptitude of the Bush war planners. Indeed, much of this evidence first surfaced in a magazine article that was published 10 months before Bush stood for re-election.

And now comes the news - largely overlooked yesterday, thanks to our laser-like focus on the presidential race - that the Army has been suppressing, for the past three years, a federally-financed study that laid bare the war-planning incompetence of the Bush administration.

The study, authored by a team of specialists at the RAND Corporation, discovered (yet again) that the Bush war planners had vastly underestimated the challenge of democratizing Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; in fact, said a draft of the report obtained by The New York Times, the poor planning had "the inadvertent effort of strengthening the insurgency."

There was constant tension between the State Department and Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department, and that further undermined the democratization planning. However, the report concluded, these tensions "were never mediated by the president or his staff."

But the report itself was kept under wraps, and remains so, because, in the words of one military source, "The Army leaders who were involved did not want to take the chance of increasing the friction with Secretary Rumsfeld" - whose basic philosophy, which he sold to Bush, was that postwar reconstruction could be done on the cheap. (Bush had designated Rumsfeld as his top postwar planner, even though the RAND report faults Rumsfeld for a "lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.")

Fortunately for Bush, this news story was barely noticed yesterday, and won't deter him, or the Republicans generally, from suggesting that the two Democratic contenders, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, will weaken national security if elected. The Republican National Committee has begun to crank out emails, plucking that particular chord.

...But wait, what's this: Another news story that was widely overlooked, just last week, perhaps because it ran on the same day as the Super Tuesday results. It seems that Bush's own intelligence chief, Mike McConnell, trekked to Capitol Hill last Tuesday and told lawmakers that al Qaeda is actually getting stronger, and is actively enhancing "its ability to attack the U.S." inside our borders.

Such is the record of Bush's tenure, one that should not be overlooked just because the spotlight is trained elsewhere.


And here's another byproduct of the Bush years: Yesterday, Arizona Republican congressman John Shadegg became the latest member of the House GOP to call it quits this year. He said that even though his health is great and his campaign coffers are brimming, he will forego running for re-election in November.

He said, "I'd like to do something else with my life." Translation: I don't want to risk being drowned in a Democratic tsunami that will lock me into minority status for the rest of my career.

He's the 29th House Republican to cut and run in 2008; in other words, 14 percent of the current GOP roster is bailing out of the chamber. They don't need to read the news to know which way the wind blows.


And as we await tonight's primary results in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C., here's one noteworthy political tidbit:

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, meeting with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh newspaper, has offered a provocative reason why his presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, should do well in the state primary on April 22. Here it is:

"You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."

Not ready?...Rendell sounds like those baseball club owners, back in the 1940s, who always insisted that white fans were "not ready" for black ballplayers.

Rendell is probably right about some of the white voters, strictly speaking. But, in terms of politesse, there are far better arguments to make for Hillary's potential prowess in Pennsylvania (lots of senior voters, lots of suburban Democratic women). It seems a tad off message for the governor of Pennsylvania to suggest that Hillary is the stronger candidate because she can outduel Barack Obama for the racist vote.