Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Slate's Fred Kaplan says Bush is going to start withdrawing troops from Iraq relatively soon, and thinks this is a political winner:

... The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces ... have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason -- a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.

...The political beauty of this scenario is that, even if Iraq remains mired in chaos or seems to be hurtling toward civil war, nobody in Congress is going to call for a halt, much less a reversal, of the withdrawal. The Republicans will fall in line; many of them have been nervous that the war's perpetuation, with its rising toll and dim horizons, might cost them their seats. And who among the Democrats will choose to outflank Bush on his right wing and advocate -- as some were doing not so long ago -- keeping the troops in Iraq for another five or 10 years or even boosting their numbers. (The question is so rhetorical, it doesn't warrant a question mark.)

In short, Bush could pull a win-win-win out of this shift....

I'm not so sure. I'm not sure the public is going to buy it.

Yes, it's true that this won't hurt him with red-meat rightists, who never complain when one of their heroes steps back from a fray -- Reagan got a free pass for withdrawing from Lebanon, and Bush hasn't lost support from his base for essentially abandoning the hunt for bin Laden.

But if the U.S. still has a significant number of troops in Iraq, and is still suffering a significant number of casualties, isn't the great fanfare that's likely to surround some of the homecomings going to seem like one more Bush bait-and-switch, at least to the anxious centrist voters who chose Bush in 2004 for security reasons but now think he's doing a lousy job?

If Iraq is still in chaos, and if there's Islamist terrorism virtually anywhere on the planet, isn't the war still going to seem like an utter failure to those voters in the middle? After all, it was sold as a cure for multiple malaises: it was supposed to banish brutality in Iraq, diminish the threat of Al Qaeda, and inspire every last Koran-owning tyrant and terrorist in the world to start making nice. This isn't "Why are we in Vietnam?" -- we know why we're in Iraq: to make the world a much, much safer place. At least that's what we've been told, in no uncertain terms, over and over again, and consistently. If, throughout 2006, after some troops come home, the world doesn't seem the slightest bit safer, and American blood still flows, I don't see how that helps Bush. He set the bar very, very high for himself, and everyone can see he hasn't come close to clearing it.

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