To my ears, the domestic political furor seems to have subsided somewhat. You hear fewer cries about “impeachable offenses” because of “domestic wiretapping” for example. That’s possibly because the NSA-is-strangling-our-civil-rights meme proved a non-starter with the plebs, but it’s also interesting to note who else thinks the administration was coloring inside the lines as we listened in, whenever “Osama bin Callin’ ” – Hint: One of the laws authors.
I doubt that the relative quiet is because partisans on either side have come to any clearer understanding of the other’s point of view – there haven’t been any “Ah! I see!” moments, and with the focus on immigration overhaul in an election year, there are no doubt hundreds of focus group teams fanning out across the country to see what political blood can be wrung from this particular radish. But mostly I sense that the combatants are exhausted from a galling and ineffective struggle, with each attempt to land a blow on the opponent causing as much or more damage to themselves as to their foes. Apart from the outlying pickets exchanging sporadic pot shots, the main actors seem to be licking their wounds and perhaps marshalling their strength.
Too, as the right looks past a time when George W. Bush is their man, for better or worse, the democratic left talks amongst themselves about Hillary, the coy thing. And they have, I think, finally come to the realization that no matter how sure they are that they could get him this time in anything like a fair fight, W won’t be running for re-election in 2008. I think they may have also come to the conclusion that all that loose talk about taking over the House to start an impeachment process is probably a losing strategy for 2006 House races – no one covered themselves in glory the last time we went through that, and anyway the Abramoff / Cunningham scandals are still all over the news bringing badness to the GOP. As ever, the first rule of politics is, “When your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, get the hell out of his way.”
The strategy seems to be to just wait the president out. Soon he’ll go away, and all of this will be as if it were a bad dream.
If true, they’re not the only ones thinking that. Using the imagery of that last US helicopter leaving the American embassy in Saigon, after the fall, Amir Taherin writes in the Wall Street Journal:
To hear Mr. Abbasi (“professor of strategy” at Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps university) tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of “the last helicopter.” It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein’s generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton’s helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.
According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an “aberration,” a leader out of sync with his nation’s character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an “American Middle East.” Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as “waiting Bush out.” “We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies,” says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran’s new Foreign Minister.
Taheri goes on the write that everywhere in the middle east that the calculus of democratic change versus dictatorial continuity is being re-evaluated based on a US president’s longevity – and the assumption that whomever replaces him in 2008 will adopt a less radical, more traditional, or “realist” policy. From Damascus to Riyadh, Tehran to Istanbul, Islamabad to Cairo, hard-eyed men shelve their austere plans for incremental liberalization and take the counsel of patience, assuming that “Mr. Bush’s plan to help democratize the heartland of Islam is fading under an avalanche of partisan attacks inside the U.S.”
Soon he’ll go away, and all of this will be as if it were a bad dream.
But Taheri polls the US political elite and finds that the legions of American public opinion have already crossed the Rubicon:
While Mr. Bush’s approval ratings, now in free fall, and the increasingly bitter American debate on Iraq may lend some credence to the “helicopter” theory, I found no evidence that anyone in the American leadership elite supported a cut-and-run strategy.
The reason was that almost all realized that the 9/11 attacks have changed the way most Americans see the world and their own place in it. Running away from Saigon, the Iranian desert, Beirut, Safwan and Mogadishu was not hard to sell to the average American, because he was sure that the story would end there; the enemies left behind would not pursue their campaign within the U.S. itself. The enemies that America is now facing in the jihadist archipelago, however, are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. as the world knows it today.
Those who have based their strategy on waiting Mr. Bush out may find to their cost that they have, once again, misread not only American politics but the realities of a world far more complex than it was even a decade ago. Mr. Bush may be a uniquely decisive, some might say reckless, leader. But a visitor to the U.S. soon finds out that he represents the American mood much more than the polls suggest.
I wonder if he’s right?