Monday, August 22, 2005

Is the War Party turning on Bush?

Awhile back, I noted that, in response to the growing realization that the US has not won (and cannot win) the war on Iraq, the "we were defeated at home" meme was beginning to circulate. This week, a more virulent strain of that meme -- "the President won't let the troops win" -- is beginning to rear its head.

This is a very interesting development. I hadn't envisioned the possibility of a pro-war backlash against Bush, at least this quickly. Lockstep loyalty to George W. Bush in the Republican Party has been much more pervasive than Democratic loyalty to LBJ in similar times. Until now, Republican Surrealist digs at the administration have generally taken the form of attacks on Donald Rumsfeld, preserving the image of Bush as "the guy who's on our side, but constantly undermined by his subordinates."

What's going on here ... and why is it going on now, at this particular time?

We know that the neocons have no compunction about biting the hand that feeds them. Although they've attempted to don the mantle of Reaganism lately, they savaged the 40th president as spineless on foreign policy -- even as he gifted them their own tax-funded featherbed and PR bureau, the National Endowment for Democracy. In the current situation, though -- they want us to believe that we are well into "World War IV," remember? -- a partial falling out isn't very likely. They either have to stand resolutely by Bush or eat him alive. There's not much room for anything in between.

We also know that the neocons aren't above jumping party lines. Those who didn't come to the GOP from the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party jumped over directly from Max Shactman's Socialist Party USA/Social Democrats USA or, earlier, directly from Trotsky's Fourth International. Organizational loyalty isn't their strong suit -- "you can call us whatever you like, just don't call us late for D-Day."

The primary, if not originating, vector for this new meme seems to be Jed Babbin, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for the first Bush administration and now a neonut columnist for The American Spectator and National Review. I hate to descend into anything resembling conspiracy theory here, but Babbin seems to frequently play "stick man" to the "carrot men" at The Weekly Standard/American Enterprise Institute/Project For A New American Century. He fairly reliably beats on the same targets his counterparts are attempting to woo, as if to drive his target into (or back into) their waiting arms.

Working hypothesis:

- Not being an idiot, George W. Bush knows that the situation on the ground in Iraq is untenable, that the US military is badly damaged from the abuse heaped on it in the expedition, and that every day brings his party one step closer to disaster in November, 2006. That's why the administration has been floating withdrawal trial balloons for a month now: They're not willing to commit sudden and explosive political suicide by going to Congress to request conscription, and there's just no way that the occupation of Iraq can be maintained indefinitely without conscription.

- Seeing these trial balloons -- and being more than willing to sacrifice a president, a party, an army or a even a nation in order to realize their goal of "permanent revolution" -- the neocons are positioning themselves for 2008. If they can bring Bush back into the fold, then they can back a Republican running on a "stay the course, only harder" platform, with Bush's support. If not, then they look for a hawkish Democrat, switch horses and run on the "we can win this war, but the current leadership is incompetent to do so" line. With the Democrats still on the fence, the idea of a Clark or Lieberman run at the White House from the neocon side is not at all outlandish ... if one factors in the neocons' unshakeable, irrational belief that things are going to turn around just any day now (or, for that matter, their less astute followers' bizarre belief that things are going swimmingly already).

Conspiracy theory? Not really -- at least not in the sense that I'm positing some unknown or unlikely phenomenon. The usual suspects are publicly known to work together and are publicly known to affiliate with identifiable organizations. Those organizations have made it clear that they have an interest in affecting US foreign policy. If you think that there's not a neoconservative "war room" in some of the neocon principals make plans are made and hammer out talking points -- even if that "war room" happens to be Bill Kristol's dining room or Norman Podhoretz's den or a teleconference account -- then you're not thinking very clearly. It's no more "conspiracy" than are the brainstorming sessions of any other political group (and yes, all of those brainstorming sessions are, technically speaking, "conspiracies").

What seems to be going on here is a game of "good cop/bad cop" with George W. Bush in the perp's chair. The Surrealists are offering him legacy points if he sticks with their delusions and a horsewhipping if he abandons them. Meanwhile, of course, the Realists are gently trying to coax him into facing reality ... and reality is getting harder and harder to ignore.

The real question for Bush seems to be whether he wants to let the neocons drag him down the chute with them as they slide toward their historical dustbin, or whether he'd prefer a slightly less confining and defining dustbin of his very own.

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