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.