Thursday, January 11, 2007


Surge Protectors

After chewing over the reactions to and analyses of President Bush's Iraq speech throughout the day, I was struck by how much was said about the Democrats and the Iraqis as potential stumbling blocks for the President's new strategy -- and how little was said about the Republicans.

The conventional wisdom that emerged Thursday, perhaps best summed up by the Wall Street Journal's lead story, posits that the biggest threat to the potential success of the President's surge proposal is from the the Pelosi-Reid Congress and the Maliki government in Baghdad.

The problem with that assessment is that it ignores the political realities of the past four years. The only way the Bush Administration was able survive its own disastrous policies as long as it did, and stave off a public revolt, was by holding the near unanimous support of the Republicans in Congress. Without that bulwark, which enabled the President and his team to marginalize much of the legitimate Democratic criticism as partisan sniping or political jockeying, this war presidency would have turned into a White House of cards long ago.

For my money, then, the most pressing danger to the new Bush strategy comes from his own allies in Congress. And the untold (or at least undertold) story of today is that Bush's base bulwark, which has been slowly eroding over the last six months, is now on the verge of disintegrating.

Indeed, there were abundant post-speech signs today that the President was losing (if not had lost) the sensible center-right that has kept his administration afloat. Probably the best bellwhether was David Brooks' dour column in today's New York Times.

Up until recently Brooks had been one of the strongest remaining advocates within the sane wing of the conservative movement for not giving up in Iraq -- and by extension not giving up on Bush. But his response to last night's primetime address was to upbraid the President for misleading the American people about what his plan really is and who the enemy in Iraq really is.

"The enemy in Iraq," Brooks concludes, "is not some discrete group of killers. It’s the maelstrom of violence and hatred that infects every institution, including the government and the military. Instead of facing up to this core reality, the Bush administration has papered it over with salesmanship and spin."

If that's what the President's best friends are saying, in a certain sense it almost doesn't matter what his political enemies plan to do in challenging his new strategy. Without a strong core of surge protectors in Congress, it's just a matter of time before the bottom completely falls out, the President squanders all of his political capital, and his entire Administration falls until political paralysis until it extracts itself from Iraq.

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