The Course Will Not Be Stayed

Damnfool David Ignatius actually gets paid to write stuff like this —

Following Tuesday’s elections, President Bush will face some of the most difficult decisions of his presidency as he struggles to craft a strategy for dealing with the ruinous mess in Iraq. He will have to do what he has sometimes found hardest: make a decisive choice among conflicting recommendations from his advisers.

Oh, please. Bush is not going to face anything. He’s not going to decide anything. He’s not going to make any policy changes. After all this time, I can’t believe anyone paying attention (I assume Ignatius is paying attention) hasn’t perceived that Bush is not capable of facing difficult decisions or making decisive choices that he doesn’t want to make.

No matter how the elections turn out, here’s what is going to happen between November 7 and the beginning of the next congressional term, regarding the Middle East:

The Baker-Hamilton recommendations will be made public. The punditocracy will spend days dissecting them, and any Republican with aspirations to the 2008 presidential nomination will declare them to be a sensible roadmap to an honorable resolution. Bush will make some noises about taking the recommendations under consideration. And nothing more will happen.

There will be rumbles coming out of the Department of State about a policy shift regarding Arab-Israeli issues. Condi Rice will tell Tim Russert that the President sincerely wants moderate Arabs and American allies in Europe and elsewhere to take a larger role and work together to address these issues. Pundits (like Ignatius) will write columns about how the United States must deal directly with Syria. And they will write that the United States must pressure Israel into making some concessions to the Palestinians. And then some other event or issue will take up most of media’s attention for a few days, and the policy shift will have been forgotten. And nothing more will happen.

If Democrats take back at least one house of Congress, I expect Bush to make some speeches in November and December declaring that he won’t let the Dems dictate Iraq policy. He will use the words strategy and victory a lot. If the Lords of Diebold allow the Republicans to retain control of Congress, Bush will interpret this as a “mandate” for the continuation of his Iraq policies, and he will dig in even more stubbornly. Bush’s speechwriters will be challenged to come up with a new way to say “stay the course” other than, you know, “stay the course.”

What happens after January is a much more interesting question. And what happens may or may not depend on who controls Congress, because politicians of both parties will be under pressure to force Bush to change the course. Ron Hutcheson writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

Voters rank the war as their top concern, and polls consistently show that they want their leaders to come up with a better plan to bring the troops home. There’s no consensus on what to do, but pressure for change is building in both political parties.

How President Bush responds probably will define his final two years in power.

A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 60 percent of Americans favor a new strategy for Iraq. Only 7 percent want to stay the course.

“The public absolutely wants something to be done about Iraq – overwhelmingly. They want their leaders to do something about Iraq that is different,” said Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. “They’re not expert enough to know what to do, they just want something done.”

No one suggests that the election could lead to a quick withdrawal or even a dramatic shift in tactics. Bush will retain his power as commander in chief, no matter which party runs Congress. At this point, the policy options for Iraq seem to range from bad to worse: add troops, withdraw troops, stay the course.

But analysts say the president can expect growing dissent and more pressure for change from lawmakers of both parties and the American people if the situation fails to improve.

Any party or politician who wants to win elections in 2008 is going to have to at the very least put some distance between himself and Bush’s War. (This will set up a situation in which a whole lot of Republicans were for the war before they were against it, but of course they will bristle with indignation if any Dem points that out.) Republicans in Congress — especially those outside the South — ought to realize that they cannot continue to echo Bush’s rhetoric and support Bush’s every cough and be assured to keep their jobs (or get a better one, like being president) after 2008.

This is not to say that they won’t try the Saint McCain strategy of appearing to oppose the President while letting him have everything he wants. And if the Republicans do better than expected on Tuesday, many of them might conclude that they only need to shore up Diebold and gerrymander a few more districts to keep themselves out of voters’ reach. And many of them might be right. But the loss of a substantial number of seats might shock enough of them into considering the possibility that democracy in America isn’t completely dead yet. And in that case, Washington might see a rebirth of genuine bipartisanship.

If Dems take back the House as expected, at the very least they’re going to have to make a big, loud, highly visible, splashy effort to force Bush to change his policy. Everyone in America should see them fighting their butts off to get Bush to change his policy. Holding a few hearings and passing a couple of resolutions won’t be enough. Even if they fail, they must show the public that it’s Bush’s War, and that the failure is Bush’s fault.

Nearly 75 percent of voters think the Dems will either end of scale back the U.S. involvement in Iraq if they take back Congress. If Dems take back Congress but can’t deliver on Iraq, the public had better see them get bruised and bloodied trying.

But I think it’s possible enough Republicans will want to get on that bandwagon that there might actually be a veto-proof majority with the constitutional power to override Bush.

For the next couple of years Republicans are likely to be in the very uncomfortable position of trying to protect the Bush Administration from, you know, investigations and scrutiny and oversight and such, because a lot of them are complicit in whatever he’s been up to. If he goes down, so will they. But at the same time, they’re going to have to oppose his unpopular policies, particularly on the Iraq War, or they’ll be toast in 2008.

Democrats, on the other hand, for once have the advantage of clarity. Finally, as Joan Walsh says, they stand for something, which is change in Iraq. Republicans will have to waffle and equivocate; Dems can pound the podium and say the course will not be stayed. I think, with only a couple of exceptions, even Dems who voted for the 2002 resolution ought to be able to to draw a clear, bright line between themselves and a lying, incompetent Bush. And there may be some Republicans about to conclude that they’d better draw that same line.

20 thoughts on “The Course Will Not Be Stayed

  1. There’s also a real possibility that Cheney will start some big, nasty, possibly nuclear war somewhere and dare the democrats in Congress to do something about it.

    That’ll keep them from doing all those stupid hearings.

    Madame speaker, if you’re reading this, beware. The Bush administration is going to be very, very dangerous in the next two years.

  2. Even if they fail, they must show the public that it’s Bush’s War, and that the failure is Bush’s fault.

    I don’t think the Dems will have the moral backbone to do anything really meaningful. I’m so discouraged. I’m so angry that the democratic leadership hasn’t actually stood up before this and voiced any kind of outrage over the war. They’re so afraid of actually taking any kind of stand on anything. Plus they’re all bending over to corporate interests — the dems a little less so than the republicans.

  3. I don’t think the Dems will have the moral backbone to do anything really meaningful.

    If they take back the House, they’ll find themselves in a very different place than they’ve been in for many years — really, since the 1970s, before the ascendancy of Reagan. They might surprise you.

    Of course, they might not. But if not, bleep ’em.

  4. Basically, I so exhausted from this campaigning. I wish the election were today. I think I will watch football and all other sports over the weekend in order to forget about the election. I know what I am going to do on Tuesday; but, I am weary of all this talk, talk, talk. There is something that the Dems seem to be ignoring, which may impact the election and that is the verdict of Saddam’s trial. Why was it set for two days before the election? Do they have the verdict and are they just sitting on it? If so, why? November surprise? It’s been known for some time; but no one seems to care that Bush and his administration may already know the verdict and think it will help them for the election by coming out November 5. Again, no outrage at manipulation by W’s gang. I am too old and too tired today. Thus, I am going to have my own news blackout.

  5. The Repugs today are pretty much where the Dems were in about 1968. From FDR’s election in 1932, with only the 8-year Eisenhower gap, Dems controlled the Executive, while Congress sometimes rolled over for the President, and sometimes note. Vietnam was the Dems’ mistake, and the party was corrupt, self-satisfied, and doomed to hand over the country to the likes of Reagan.

    Since 1980 Congress has waffled back and forth, but with just the 8-year Clinton gap, the Repugs have owned the Executive. Their party is now corrupt, bloated, and jaw-droppingly hypocritical. We’re stuck in their version of Vietnam, and a vast majority of us want change, but I’m still not sure what we’re going to change to. Politicians who stay the hell away from televangelists and Halliburtion, I guess. It’s a start.

  6. Did someone mention exhaustion? I am exhausted by the MSM (Mainstream Media) and their omissions, distortions, and lies. Do Dems stand for something!!?? I am a Dem and watched the Republican Pig Machine begin lying in 2000 in Miami and continue lying right up until the future and the MSM doesn’t do anylthing but aid and abet them. If Americans think they can have anything like a democracy without a free press that reports facts and the truth without coultercrap and limblogging obscuring everything like smoke at a witchburning, then they deserve the disasters they get. We need to “fix our issues around the problem of the MSM” and fast. The MSM is the problem: they prevent investigations into everything by burying the stories.

  7. On the topic of campaigning, has anyone else seen Ned Lamont’s new ad? There’s a big brick wall with “Iraq War” graffitied on it, and a short man in a white wig (Lieberman, presumably) drives his car right into it and says, “Huh, I didn’t see that coming.” This repeats a bunch of times with different issues written on the wall. Plus the production values are kind of low, lending it a kitchy quality. Something about the ad is hilarious. If I ever run for office (fat chance) I want to hire that guy to do my ads.

    Anyway, I heard on the morning news that polls are indicating that the “Democrats don’t have a plan for Iraq” meme isn’t working; voters are exasperated with “stay the course” and Democrats will at least do …something else. And what that something else is doesn’t really matter anymore.

    There’s also an article on Salon today about Republicans who have had to turn down the hate speech because Libertarian and moderate voters are pretty much done with intolerance and gay marriage as a wedge issue, preferring to vote against anyone they percieve as extremist. I’d say the tides are changing, and, assuming Diebold doesn’t elect the new Congress, it really will be up to Democrats to stop being complacent and demonstrate that they do stand for something. Nancy Pelosi’s plan for the first 100 days of the new Congress is a step in the right direction domestically, but it’s hard to predict what Congress will do with Iraq.

  8. Re Diebold: I think the GOP had maybe a dozen cong. districts and a couple states lined up for “tweaking” when they laid their election plans last year. I suspect those dozen or so seats (and couple senate seats) have now gone from needing a couple percent to needing double digits. They may try that, or they may try tweaking new districts. But, even with Diebold support, it takes planning to steal an election. So, I think they’ll get caught in a number of places. Now that the likes of Lou Dobbs are onto e-voting as ripe for fraud, they won’t be able to use the “tin-foil hat” defence (though they’ll try, I’m sure). Thus I think there’s a good possibility that this will blow up in their faces, some important people will do jail time and we’ll have something approaching genuine election reform. I think that guarantees we’ll never have to deal with an administration this extreme again.

    Will the Dems actually do something? I think so. This is a new crop. The incumbents will strut and posture for awhile, but I think almost all of them will find themselves irrelevant pretty quickly.

    Will BushCo do something drastic (war with Iran, martial law)? If Cheney were POTUS I’d say probably, but I don’t think Bush has the nerve (and he’s too enamored of being the Big Guy to step aside). Look at all the work he’s put into (trying to) make sure he can’t be tried for war crimes (hmm, is that what that 99,000 acres in Paraguay is for?). Nah, he’ll just go back to giving the press the finger, being abusive and drinking.

    Well, I’m feeling optimistic today, and I’m not used to it (it’s been around 14 years after all), so maybe I’ve gotten carried away.

  9. Gordon’s right; no need to be maudlin about all this.

    Meth and gay hookers for everyone! Ted’s buying!

  10. Meth and gay hookers for everyone! Ted’s buying!

    I’ll take a dime bag of herb..and I’ll pass on the hookers..I’m steady with my hand and faithful to my wife.

  11. In October, we lost 103 soldiers. In these first 3 days of November, we have lost another 11 soldiers…..and this 3rd day of November is not over yet.

    I think Murtha was so right when he said to pull our forces out to nearby countries. At least that action will give some indication of whether our occupation presence is fanning the flames in Iraq. Also, if we give up the occupation and Iraq does turn even bloodier, then the international community can put in peace-keepers as has happened to quell other civil wars.
    But America should pay for those peace-keepers, just as we should pay for whatever Iraq infrastructure we destroyed, including the olive groves and roadways, and heritage sites. To pay for that, let the war profiteers and obscenely rich who most benefited from Bush policies cough up their ill-gotten new riches.

    Except for deceptive rhetoric, Bush chose to ignore and bypass the international community about pre-emptively invading Iraq just as he chose to ignore and bypass the Democratic party in governing our country. Just in terms of leadership, that behavior is stupid for its dissing of so many.
    Come Tuesday, I’ll first settle for Bush getting functional brakes put on his train-wreck policies. Then I’d love to see politicians grapple with the issues through real debate. That would be so darn healthy compared to pulling hare-brained answers out of an ideology hat.

  12. I think the course will be stayed. As I see it, Bush has no options..he’s painted himself into a corner where all he can do is throw lives and money into Iraq and try to run down the clock till he can pass off his mistake into somebody else’s hands. He might consider redefining the mission again to provide an escape route, but as things stand now, he’s been trapped by his own lies and rhetoric.. Now the Iraqi’s are calling for America to stay another three years, and battle against terrorists who don’t exist except in the form of Iraqis fighting an American puppet government.

    I wouldn’t put much stock into the Baker-Hamilton recommendations… Hamilton said on Tweety’s show that, ‘We’ll be looking at the mistakes that we made, and the mistakes that we didn’t make”…Anybody want to decipher that riddle?

  13. Maha – One of your best posts. May I ask a question; some of your speculation about a possible bipartisan opposition to the war has me thinking. Congress authorized the war because they beleived the rhetoric about WMD. A significant and growing number of Republicans are clear on one point – if they had known then what they know now – they would NOT have voted in favor.

    My question is: Can Congress retract the endorsement of the war – and if so does that change the presidents authority? My reasoning may be flawed – I’m a mailman not a lawyer – but as I read the law, the prez has sweeping authority in a declared war or Congressionally authorized conflict. But if the prez sends trooops into a situation on his own (he can), Congress can reel him in. So could Congress RETRACT their authorization since the direct and immediate threat turned out to be a mistake (that’s a more polite word than hoax). And does that put King George in a weak position to continue to waste GIs?

  14. The Constitution gives Congress the power to reel in the President, but this President has already shown that he does not acknowledge that power. So it will be very interesting if a Dem Congress does try.

    I already voted on a paper absentee ballot, but I’m with Bonnie, I’m exhausted with campaigning. I raised a bunch of money for the candidate I’ve been volunteering for, Claire McCaskill. I did phoning. I did data entry at the local HQ. I’m too sick and exhausted to do anything more but cheer our candidates on to victory (I hope). I’m not going to watch football, but I am going to rest. I’m too tired even to think about going to the victory parties the campaign has planned. Got my invites yesterday and just tossed ’em. I’m too old to party any more. 😉

    Also, Cheney has basically just snarled that it doesn’t matter what the public thinks about Iraq. It’s the top story on HuffPo.

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