'All Over the Place'

By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The president has fled the field from "stay the course," signaling not just the unwinnability of his war but the bankruptcy of his political strategy. For as the president and his party grope for an alternative plan of action in Iraq, Karl Rove's bright line between Republican resolve and Democratic defeatism has become irreversibly fuzzed.

"Stay the course," after all, was never intended to have a free-standing existence. Republicans invoked it only in dialectical contrast to "cut and run," their caricature of the Democrats' preference for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, or for partitioning it into three separate quasi-nations, or for redeploying our troops to neighboring states -- or, more simply, of the Democrats' mounting conviction that our presence in Iraq was growing more pointless each day.

In a strenuous attempt to make lemonade from lemons, George Bush attacked the Democrats for failing to articulate a clear, compelling alternative to his war, though his war created so cosmic a debacle that there were no compelling alternatives. Appearing last week with Don Sherwood, one of many embattled Republican congressmen in Pennsylvania, Bush accused the Democrats of being "all over the place" on Iraq.

Over the past several months, though, more and more Republican candidates have taken to voicing the same doubts and suggesting the same alternatives as those Democrat Defeatocrats. Wobbly Joe Biden has been joined by staunch Kay Bailey Hutchison -- Republican of Texas, Bush's own senator -- in calling for a tripartite partition. "People say, 'Well, that would balkanize the country,' " she told the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News. "Well, things are pretty stable in the Balkans right now."

Or consider George Allen, Virginia's own Mr. Malaprop, who as recently as last month was preaching the gospel of Stay the Course and disparaging those who would "second-guess" his votes for the war. In just the past couple of weeks, Allen has allowed as how "mistakes have been made, and progress has been far too slow."

Earlier this month Bush stood alongside Allen at a Richmond fundraiser and complained that the Democrats "would have our country quit in Iraq before the job is done. That's why they are the party of cut and run. We will fight. We will stay. We will win in Iraq." But after Bush left, Allen told reporters he didn't embrace all the president had said: "The president has his ideas on Iraq. John Warner has his, and I have mine."

As Iraq descends into a Hobbesian bloodbath, it's every man for himself within the Grand Old Party. In Connecticut, Rep. Chris Shays, after his 14th visit to Iraq, announced he was "losing faith in how we are fighting this war." In New Jersey, senatorial candidate Tom Kean Jr. called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation. Most wondrous of all, in suburban Philadelphia, Rep. Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, suggested that the right to make decisions about the future deployment or redeployment of our troops in Iraq should be left to the generals there, rather than remain with Bush, Vice President Cheney and Rumsfeld -- in whose judgment, we must presume, Weldon has lost all confidence. Weldon is under investigation by the FBI over some alleged financial dealings that he and his family have had with Russian businesses. While they're at it, the agents might inquire if Weldon has ever read the Constitution, which designates the president as commander of our armed services.

If a Democrat offered Weldon's remedy for Iraq, the Republicans would flay him alive. When Weldon went woozy, however, they reacted by continuing to funnel money into his coffers. "Stay the course" has been replaced by "anything goes" -- so long as it helps the Republicans cling to power.

meyersonh@washpost.com


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