Am I mistaken in getting a whiff of fatalism coming out of the Bush Administration? Certainly the news coverage suggests more than a usual cynicism about the administrations motives and actions. If I can sum up the general narrative, it seems to be that the last election has alerted the B/C apparatchiks that there may be consequences for the their actions, and their efforts now are to stave off those consequences as long as possible.
Item 1: Iraq. Every time Bush thinks about Iraq, he has visions of the helicopters taking off from the roof of the Saigon embassy. Jerry Ford's funeral must have brought this vision uncomfortably close. The cynical spin on the surge is that it is a feeble effort that will have poor if any results. It bears all the hallmarks of Bush's great adventure--poorly thought out, inadequately resourced, based on little or no intelligence and ungrounded in the reality of the situation. No matter how brilliant a general Petreaus is, he doesn't have a partner in the Iraqis. To the extent that it looks like this is the last hurrah, then he will have even fewer partners. But hard fighting--with the spike in American deaths that will result--will only make the political situation in the US worse. To the extent that there is any strategy at all, it must be to lose ugly, and blame the Democrats for failure. (If today's lame Washington Post op-ed piece by Liz Cheney is any indication, the only plan the B/C folks have is to hope that everyone will forget that they've been in charge for six years and they can blame the defeat on some Fifth Column of people who don't want to win. As if pointing out that Bush's great Iraq adventure is going down the tubes is the equivalent to wanting it to go down the tubes. With these people, telling the truth is always wrong.)
I don't think that will work. For almost 4 years, this has been entirely a Republican war. No Democrats were at the podium when Bush gave his "Mission Accomplished" speech. If the Democrats came out of Vietnam with the stink of military failure it was because the public knew that the war was Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara's war, that the Democrats dealt brutally with the voices within their own party that wanted the war to end. The party was ever after divided, the victim of its own pre-1968 rhetoric. Nixon failed to solve the Democrats problem. If the Democrats inherit this war, the public will understand in its marrow who lost it and will expect nothing more of the Democrats than an exit--honorable, if possible.
Second, things appear to be moving too fast on the ground. 20,000 troops might have made a difference in March of 2003, when the Iraqis looted and we simply stood by. Whatever is happening now, we are on the sidelines, powerful and dangerous to the players, but not their main concern. The two sides are squared off and fighting to the death; we're important only in so far as we can provide aid or can retard their efforts.
At this point, it is impossible to tell what victory would look like. What would failure look like? I believe when it comes it will be swift and terrible. No one has planned for reversals or how to get out--anyone in the military who had would have been cut off at the knees by Rumsfield and his cronies. What happens when one of the brigades gets isolated and slaughtered or captured? What happens if the Baghdad airport should fall to insurgents, or be cut off from the rest of Iraq? It sounds as if Petreaus figures its going to take him some time to get up to speed once he's in Baghdad. Best guess they are giving is that it will take at least six months to see results. (About the general on a white horse: the criticism of Petreaus on PBS tonight by Col. Douglas MacGregor (Ret.), U.S. Army, was withering--a history of failure in Iraq.) What's going to stop the downward spiral in the meantime?
What will we see--troops making a mad dash for Kuwait and Kurdistan? I recall the shock and dismay when Jimmy Carter's attempt to rescue the hostages crashed and burned in the desert. The public didn't give him any props for that one. But he was able to absorb defeat and move on. The Bushies are going to want to launch World War 3--even if they don't have anyone to launch it against. If it comes to this impasse, we're going to have major constitutional and institutional problems--who in the Pentagon is going to go along with some desperate measure?
Item 2: The missing DAs. Why is the Justice department firing successful district attorneys? It can't be just to put some political hack in to polish his/her resume, although that would be a bonus. It sure sounds like the they want to gum up the works on some investigations which will show how US security was for sale to the highest bidder. Investigations which will go from bought congressmen to bought CIA officials and to bought Defense Department officials. These are scandals that are all too close to the scandal that is the Iraq war.
The problem is that the administration only has hacks to put into these positions. That will only anger career staff and increase the leaks of misconduct. Will they be able to keep the lid on before there are calls that Alberto Gonzales be impeached for obstruction of justice?
Finally: the Scooter Libby Trial. Events at the trial today suggest that these crooks and liars may not be able to outrun the consequences of their actions. The Libby trial seems set to showcase an administration in meltdown. There was no more shameful and dangerous act these people committed than revealing an undercover CIA operative's name for a purely partisan reason. Now questions are being raised about whether Dick Cheney should resign. Liz had better be sharpening her pencil--she'll need to do better than sputter with outrage to win this battle.