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Getting It Exactly Wrong: The WaPo’s “Analysis” of the President’s Political Fortunes

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From this morning’s Washington Post:

“You’ve got Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories aflame, you’ve got Iraq still aflame, and you’ve got the Iran issue now unresolved,” said Carlos Pascual, a senior State Department official until this year. “It has hurt the U.S. internationally because it has only reinforced in everyone’s mind that the U.S. was not being strategic, it was not looking ahead to how to handle the whole panoply of issues in a way that’s both realistic and effective….”

“It’s starting to overstrain the system,” said Pascual, now vice president of the Brookings Institution. “You’ve got a very small team who are really at the core of dealing with all of these issues. In my view, you can start to see some mistakes being made.”

Pascual is speaking on behalf of permanent Washington, the Council on Foreign Relations, and faculty clubs everywhere, and doing so sincerely. It isn’t a partisan attack on Bush, though it blends in with the incessant attacks from Reid et al.

Pascual’s remarks and the entire article seeks to sell the idea that the Bush Presidency is in ruins, and to do so it ignores the central fact of our time, which is that we are engaged in a wide-spread war with radical Islam.  The irony is Bush’s great strength is his “strategic” vision, his unwavering insistence that there is a war underway and every event must be understood in the context of that war.  

A strategic choice is one that determines the entire course of a business, a campaign, a presidency or a war. Thus the “Europe first” choice was the great strategic choice of late 1941. It is always possible and very useful to argue about the wisdom of strategic choices, but it is foolish and deceptive to ignore those that have been made in an attempt to define your way to a victory in a debate that has in fact not been joined. That the reporter never notes the Malaki speech yesterday which cast the world crisis in blunt terms underscores how rigged the setting for the Pascual critique, which examined closely is simply a series of non-strategic observations about current events. 

The reporter stumbles and lets the bias through at article’s end:

Moreover, they note, Bush has three months to paint the Middle East conflict in terms of his vision of the fight against terrorism.

Given that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization –the “long arm of Iran” as Israel’s foreign minister put it yesterday– the president doesn’t have to “paint” anything.  Rather, the left, permanent DC and the CFRers, and above all the agenda journalists have to work overtime to “paint” a different picture, to in essence “paint over” the president’s strategic vision.

Here’s the alternative analysis, one almost completely missing from the WaPo “analysis”:

President Bush and his advisors believe it is all one war, and though the Islamic extremists in Iran and their proxy in Hezbollah are the enemies of the al Qaeda terrorists, both branches of the Islamists need to be defeated. They cannot be negotiated with, and they cannot be contained because they are not subject to deterrence in the way the Soviets or the PRC is subject to deterrence. They and their allies have to be confronted and defeated serially, a process which began in Afghanistan, and continues in Iraq and across the globe. It is a huge undertaking, but an incredibly urgent one given the designs of the enemies.

Bush and his team have always grasped those central facts.  They have never reacted to any development except via reference to this understanding, and thus continue to enjoy bedrock support at home and abroad. (No quotes in the piece from Australia or the Blairites, btw, though much is made of the new stress on Bush’s efforts to “mend the tattered relations with European allies,” a process now allegedly imperiled because of the U.S.’s pro-Israel response.) Bush’s political strength within his base at home has been imperiled only when it was perceived that the war had fallen as a priority in debates over such matters as border security and the ports deal.  Indeed, his nomination of Harriet Miers, dismissed as cronyism by his critics or unserious by his friends, was probably the result of his desire to get a war-powers friendly justice on SCOTUS.  Bush endures a lot of political heat –especially over Secretary Rumsfeld– because he refuses to make tactical moves to benefit his approval ratings when he sees in them serious strategic setbacks.

Bush’s political opponents have always denigrated his strategic choice but have never refuted it or even really attempted to debate it.  They cannot conceive that Bush has a plan and sticks with it, so they resort to the “stubborn” argument, the “bubble” critique, etc.  Some list their tactical objections, but this technique cannot rally folks to the Democratic Party’s vision because the Democrats aren’t serious about the war. Bush only appears politically weak when these tactical objections are made outside of the context which forces a choice between the strategic vision of his Adminstration and that non-vision of the Democrats’. 

The misunderestimating of Bush and the misunderstanding of the central political choice in America is on display in this article, and it is amazing to see it in such condensed form. The Democrats, the foreign policy establishment and the MSM have never understood Bush’s success because of their collective arrogance about their own skill sets and belief that Bush lack’s the very talents essential to success: verbal facility and the admiration of the chattering class. They have never grasped that the American electorate does not value what they value, especially in wartime.  They forget that Eisenhower dominated American politics even though he was, like Bush, ill-equipped for daily verbal sparring. 

But Ike knew the Soviets.  And W gets the Islamists. And they both won elections.

“Ike and the GOP got hammered in ’58,” will be the reply.  Yes, because of a recession and Sputnik. The Democrats were credible then on national security, and the economy was in the tank. Had the Democrats denied the threat posed by the Soviet Union, they would not have triumphed even with the economy sputtering.

As the November elections approach, the same debate has begun as surrounded the 2002 and 2004 contests: Are we in a war, and if so, which party is better equipped to lead it? Reporter Peter Baker anchors his “analysis” to the premise that “[f]or the president, the timing could not be much worse.” I cannot imagine any single sentence that could be so very, very wrong. The war and all its deadly seriousness and enormous perils are back at the center of the political debate.  Nothing benefits the president more politically than the necessity of serious debate about serious issues.  The minimum wage debate and bogus arguments about the deadlines within the prescription drug program just disappear against the backdrop of the existential threat to Israel and the new revelations about the strength of a Hezbollah terror organization operating globally. 

Though the president and his allies did not foresee a Hezbollah miscalculation on the order of the one the terrorists made, the very fact that an intense and crucial new battle front has opened in the wider war does not hurt the president politically.  The exact opposite, in fact.The upset of “Europeans” and of Kofi Annan –is there anyone abroad for whom more contempt is felt by Americans, even Chirac?– is nothing to American politics except a bonus for the GOP. 

If ever a reporter, a think tanker, an MSMer or a blogger or a Democrat wants to make the case that we are not in a wide war with radical Islam, then there will truly be an argument about the strategic choice of the Bush Administration.

No such argument is made in this analysis, and none has been offered by the Democrats as we turn the corner into the fall election season.  It is the same choice as before: seriousness versus silliness;  blunt realism versus sophistry.




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