The War Over the War

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 15, 2006; 12:14 PM

President Bush could have declared a change of course in his overwhelmingly unpopular war in Iraq this week.

Riding high on a few rare glimmers of good news, Bush could have declared that it was time for the U.S. to start its exodus from that troubled country, thereby offering the public a light at the end of the tunnel -- and possibly uniting a deeply fractured country in the anticipation of our troops coming home.

But instead, Bush yesterday made it clear: Not only is he set in his path -- he's embracing the divisive nature of the war and declaring it the No. 1 campaign issue of the 2006 mid-term elections.

It's somehow appropriate that this was also the week that Bush political guru Karl Rove slipped the clutches of the CIA leak investigation. For it is Rove who is the mastermind of the war over the war.

Rove, in New Hampshire on Monday night, trumpeted the new Republican battle cry against Democrats: "They may be with you at the first shots, but they are not going to be with you for the last, tough battles."

By trying to turn attention to the Democrats -- and their incoherent, inconsistent, and irresolute approach to the war -- Rove has once again settled on his usual and reliable game plan: Don't defend, attack!

The War as Political Issue

Here's the transcript of yesterday's news conference. I had some initial thoughts about it in yesterday's column .

Peter Wallsten and Maura Reynolds write in the Los Angeles Times: "The Iraq war is the most immediate foreign policy problem besetting the Bush administration. But as a political issue, the White House and top Republican strategists have concluded that the war is a clear winner.

"GOP officials intend to base the midterm election campaign partly on talking up the war, using speeches and events to contrast President Bush's policies against growing disagreement among leading Democrats over whether to support immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday -- and a lengthy Rose Garden news conference Wednesday in which he extolled the new Iraqi government -- mark the beginning of a planned months-long effort, which got an unexpected boost with the death last week of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. . . .

"Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and a key White House advisor, conceded Wednesday that protracted violence in Iraq and voters' rising doubts 'have had a dampening effect on the president's approval rating.' But, he said, given a choice between Democrats' uncertainty and Bush's firmness, 'that choice favors us.'"

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "With his insistence that the war in Iraq is 'worth it' and his unwavering promise of success there, President Bush is trying to frame congressional elections this November as a contest between a Republican Party resolute on the war in Iraq and a Democratic Party riven by divisions.


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