Rove's True Regret: It's a Rap

(Evan Vucci - AP)
By Al Kamen
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Karl Rove, the outgoing White House deputy chief of staff and President Bush's closest adviser, has had his ups and downs over the years. The "ups" would perhaps be the passage of the Medicare drug-benefit expansion, tax-cut legislation and No Child Left Behind, and of course a couple of stunning presidential runs.

The somewhat less rewarding moments might have been talking to Robert Novak and Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame, the failed Social Security initiative, the '06 elections, the flameout on immigration reform, maybe that Iraq adventure.

Asked by our colleague, Peter Baker, if there is one, just one, thing he really, really regrets, Rove said: "I regret accepting that invitation from CNN and going to that stupid dinner and getting turned into MC Rove."

Really? Worse than Iraq? Surely that "Rappin' Rove" routine at the White House Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in March wasn't that bad.

Let's take a look:

Well, he's got a point.

A Little Iraq Nostalgia

As the war in Iraq drags on, some folks talk about wishing everyone knew in 2003 what we know now. Turns out, we did.

The surprise hit book of this summer may well be a 44-pager by an unknown War Department writer in 1943 titled: "Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II."

On the very first page, we learn that "American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could."

The book warns against errant first impressions. "Most Americans and Europeans who have gone to Iraq don't like it at first. Might as well be frank about that. But nearly all of these same people changed their minds after a few days or weeks, largely on account of the Iraqi people they began to meet. So will you."

Long before Gen. David Petraeus co-authored the "Counterinsurgency Field Manual," the 1943 guide explained that "the best way you can [beat Hitler's agents in Iraq] is by getting along with the Iraqis and making them your friends. And the best way to get along with any people is to understand them." So "Talk Arabic if you can to the people," the primer advises. "No matter how badly you do it, they will like it."

The University of Chicago Press, which discovered and reprinted the original manual last month, has already gone through two editions (10,000 books), is printing a third, and is likely to go through a fourth. (This constitutes a mega-blockbuster for academic publishers.) "My initial take was that if we could get a few media outlets to notice it, we would have a success," said university press publicity manager Levi Stahl. Bookstores are placing it at checkout registers because, as Stahl noted, "it's a good impulse buy."

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