Withdrawal from Iraq or political sleight of hand?

Withdrawal from Iraq or political sleight of hand?
By Amitabh Pal

June 27, 2006

The Bush Administration is finally serious about reducing troop levels in Iraq. Or is it?

A briefing leaked to the New York Times has General George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, proposing that the number of combat brigades be cut by more than half by December 2007. The first reductions are slated to take place by September. Even bigger cuts may come before the next presidential election.
The question is: How sincere is this plan? Remember, this is an Administration for which politics drives all policy. Or, as John DiIulio, a former Bush official who resigned in disgust, put it, “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

So, a trial balloon is being floated to the press to take some of the heat off the Administration. This may (or may not) be followed by substantial actual troop reductions, depending on whether Rove and his cohorts decide they can extract political mileage out of the process for the looming Congressional elections. If the promised reductions don’t take place, officials can claim that they had said that the withdrawal was contingent on “continued progress,” and that sufficient “progress” hadn’t been made.

Extend this scenario a bit further in time and you have the Pentagon and Bush’s Brain attempting to work in cahoots to pick Bush’s successor. Politics is being taken to a new level.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, whose anger at the Bush people has reached an amazing intensity, recently laid bare the Bush Administration’s political chicanery.

“From the Bush-Rove perspective, General Casey’s plan is not a serious strategic proposal,” writes Herbert in the June 26 Times. “It’s a straw in the political wind.”

Herbert points out the irony of Casey putting together his strategy around the same time that Republicans were excoriating Democrats in Congressional debates for supposedly suggesting to cut and run from Iraq.

Let’s be clear: Even if fully implemented, Casey’s proposal doesn’t amount to a full American withdrawal from Iraq. But the fact that Rove and his fellow tacticians feel it necessary to offer even this concession to the American public shows how worried they are about the war’s unpopularity and its effects on the Republicans’ prospects in the fall and two years from now. Fleeting pieces of good news such as the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has done little to change recent public opinion on withdrawal. A USA Today poll released on June 26 shows that 57 percent of Americans want Congress to set a withdrawal plan, with 50 percent of the population wanting troops out either immediately or within a year. Such numbers must be staring Rove in the face.

In comments that are laughable even by the standards of this crowd, the White House is trying to maintain that it is above gauging public opinion on the subject.

“The president is not going to conduct the war based on polls,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in response to the USA Today survey. “His leadership is based on his strategy for victory.”

Yeah, right. The only thing these people base their policies on are polls. But even if they decide to curtail the Iraq fiasco just due to cynical electoral calculations, that’ll be a welcome step.