It's difficult to watch Democrats play checkers while Republicans play chess with Iraq. It's particularly difficult on Memorial Day as more Americans and Iraqis die. But the Republican Party has been playing politics with Iraq since the day after the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in office in 2001, and they have no intention of stopping now. They may have borrowed some techniques from Richard Nixon, but they have no intention of repeating his mistakes.
The political calculus being pursued by Karl Rove and the Republican Party with regard to Iraq and the 2008 elections is a simple four-step process:
1. Shift "ownership" of the downside of the "war" and occupation of Iraq to the Democrats.
2. Begin to wind down American involvement in the occupation of Iraq no later than mid-2008.
3. "Claim victory and get out" of direct combat in Iraq by the early fall of 2008.
4. Win big in the 2008 elections by having "won" a "war."
Step one was accomplished last week, when Republicans - particularly those most visible in our corporate "mainstream" media - played up hugely how "Democrats" in the House and Senate had "caved in" to George W. Bush's demand for a "free hand" in Iraq. Bush, of course, is not up for re-election, so it's no problem for him to take the short-term heat for the ongoing death and destruction in Iraq. With $500 million budgeted to re-write history after he leaves office (the so-called "Bush Library" and "think tank" associated with it), Bush has plenty of time to rehabilitate his legacy, much as Reagan's handlers have so deftly done.
With the Democrats "giving the President what he wanted" on Iraq, the average person in our nation now thinks Democrats and Bush are jointly responsible for the current "mess" in Iraq.
Step two was initiated a few weeks ago with diplomatic initiatives by Condoleezza Rice to Iran and Syria. At Bush's news conference about the passage of the Iraq funding bill, he all but laid out this strategy, in citing the Baker/Hamilton Commission, which recommended pulling Iran and Syria (and other nations in the region) into the process of stabilizing Iraq, and redeploying American forces to "safe" places like the Green Zone, the huge military cities ("bases") we're building there, and to nearby countries like Kuwait. A day later, the Bush Administration quietly announced that they were dropping funding for covert destabilization programs against Iran and Syria, and initiating talks with Iran "about Iraq."
Bush will now follow nearly exactly the script the Democrats wrote in the bill Bush vetoed, reducing and redeploying out troops over the next 15 months, all in anticipation of the 2008 elections. Except that the Democrats, having failed to override his veto and having "caved in" to him, can no longer claim any ownership whatever to the successes that will come from it - Republicans in Congress and Bush will claim all of that.
This is the end-game of a political equation that was begun the day after Bush was sworn into office.
We know that Bush wanted to massively cut taxes on his corporate sponsors and people, like himself, with substantial inherited fortunes. He wanted to weaken government protections of the environment, children, the poor, the elderly, the ozone layer, and our nation's forests. He wanted his oil-rig and mining-interest friends to have more access to public lands.
We know he wanted to undo Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal by stripping the American workplace (particularly government and schools) of unions, rolling back "socialist" unemployment and Social Security programs, and eliminating SEC and tort restraints on predatory corporate behavior. He'd even campaigned on this platform - particularly Social Security privatization - back in 1978 when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress from Texas.
We know he wanted to increase the police power of the federal government, gut the First and Fourth Amendments, and thus create a "safe and orderly nation" of people under constant surveillance, who never question those in power.
We know he wanted to give billions of our tax dollars to churches he approved of, and bring their leaders into the halls of government. He wanted to pass laws incorporating religious dogma about when human life begins, what is appropriate sexuality, and free churches to use tax-exempt dollars to influence politics.
It was an ambitious agenda. In order to bring about this neoconservative paradise, Bush knew he'd need considerable political capital. And that kind of capital didn't come from his being selected as President by the Supreme Court.
Such political capital - such raw political power - would only come, he believed, by his becoming a "war president."
Bush wasn't the first to realize how war strengthened a president in power, although the Founders saw it as a danger rather than an opportunity.
On April 20, 1795, James Madison wrote, "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few."
Reflecting on war's impact on the Executive Branch of government, Madison continued his letter about the dangerous and intoxicating power of war for a president.
"In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive [President] is extended," he wrote. "Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both.
"No nation," he concluded, "could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
But freedom wasn't the goal of George W. Bush or his neoconservative Republican colleagues. It was political power. And they were willing to lie us into a war to achieve it.
Writer Russ Baker noted in October, 2004, that Mickey Herskowitz, the man Bush had originally hired to write his autobiography ("A Charge To Keep: My Journey To The White House"), told Baker that George Bush was planning his Iraq invasion - to seize and hold political power for himself and the Republican Party - during his first presidential election campaign.
"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," Herskowitz told Baker. "It was on his mind. He [Bush] said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency."
The Senate Intelligence committee released, just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend, the "Part Two" of their report that Republican Senator Pat Roberts had kept from release until after the elections, showing clearly that Bush lied about the intelligence he had in 2002, both to Congress, to the American people, and to the world. Bush lied and people died - and continue to die. But politically - at least so far - it has worked out well for Bush.
It was a lie of political expediency, with the war resolution carefully timed just before the 2002 elections to help the Republicans take back the Senate.
It was echoed and amplified and repeated over and over again to help him and other Republicans get elected in 2004.
It wasn't just a war for oil - cheap oil was just a useful secondary benefit.
It wasn't just a war against terrorism - that was just a convenient excuse.
It wasn't just a war to enrich Bush's and Cheney's cronies - those were just pleasant by-products.
It wasn't just a war to show Poppy Bush that Junior was more of a man than him - that was just a personal bonus for Dubya.
It was, pure and simple, well planned years in advance, a war to solidify Bush and the Republican Party's political capital.
It was a war for political power. That had to be first. Everything else - oil, profits, ongoing PATRIOT Act powers, easy manipulation of the media - all could only come if political power was seized and held through at least two decisive election cycles.
The Bush administration lied us into an invasion to get and keep political power. It's that simple. It's the same reason Richard Nixon authorized Watergate and then lied about the cover-up. The same reason Nixon lied about his "secret plan" to get out of Vietnam.
And now Democrats think they'll be able to claim the high ground, but they just lost it all. Even as Harry Reid declared on the day Bush accepted his new Iraq funding that, "Democrats will continue to insist that this administration accept responsibility for its failed conduct of this war..." the Republican media machine was shoving that responsibility down the throats of the Democrats.
Meanwhile, the Bush plan is imminently clear to the Republicans in Congress. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, about the same time Reid was speaking, was telling reporters that "the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it." Republican Senator Jeff Sessions openly said that same day that the "war" in Iraq is no longer a "war," but an occupation, setting the stage for a withdrawal that won't be perceived as a defeat.
The plan is simple. By November of 2008, the "victories" of the Democrats' first hundred days in office will be long forgotten, the "war" will be remembered as "difficult, but at least we won it," and those "anti-war" Democrats will be portrayed as wimps or cravenly anti-American.
The only question now is how placidly the Democrats will continue to play their assigned role in this little drama. And how many more people will die between now and the time Republicans cynically (and finally) execute their strategy in time for the 2008 elections.