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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bush’s Iraq Bait-and-Switch

By the time of the president’s “address to the nation” on Iraq tomorrow night, it should be apparent to just about everyone that the man is in the process of executing a bait-and-switch tactic on the war that is truly breathtaking in its audacity and cynicism.
There are two major aspects to the bait-and-switch. The first and most obvious is that whatever else it represented, the “surge” was designed to make it possible for Bush to embrace the possibility of troop withdrawals from Iraq without changing course or actually reducing troop levels. The fact that Bush’s best-case scenario is now a return to pre-surge troop levels exposes the circular nature of the whole exercise.
Secondly, the administration has managed to turn David Petraeus into the alleged architect of Bush’s entire war policy. He was sent to Iraq to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign designed to produce a political breakthrough. His “report” to Congress unsurprisingly noted that since no such breakthrough had occurred, he’d have to continue it for an indefinite period if people expected it to produce political gains. Now Bush is about to “embrace” the “Petraeus Plan” for military action, as though it’s some sort of end in itself. Thus, he’s offloading responsibility for his war policies to the military.
It’s hard to imagine these tactics will have any significant effect on public opinion at large, or on Democrats and independents, other than a gullible few. But all the hype about the surge has clearly boosted support levels for Bush’s Iraq policies among conservative “base” voters, which has in turn helped prevent nervous Republican members of Congress from leaving the reservation. More ominously, the “surge” campaign has had a large effect on the GOP presidential contest, in which the candidates are now falling over each other in bellicose “victory” language about Iraq, despite earlier expectations that they’d find ways to distance themselves from this political albatross. Indeed, the emerging role of one-time frontrunner John McCain in this campaign is to serve as a commissar who will sic right-wing media and angry “base” voters on any candidate who dares to inch away from the Iraq disaster.
And finally, there’s the distinct possibility that Bush’s latest Iraq gambit will lead to a major split among Democrats over how, exactly, to respond, since no one can even begin to pretend any longer that Bush will himself change course.
All in all, the sheer perversity of Bush’s political strategy on Iraq has to make you wonder if it was the final, diabolical gift of Karl Rove.

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