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Blame It on the Democrats

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 1:32 PM

President Bush's Iraq strategy may be coming straight from Vice President Cheney, but his political attacks on Democrats who dare to demand a pullout are pure Karl Rove.

When the president is on the defensive, Rove's signature move is to disdain the quaint constraints of reality and attack the critics where they are strongest -- ideally, by tarring them with Bush's own weakness.

The ultimate example, of course, came during the 2004 campaign when Rove was marketing a man who had ducked service in Vietnam against a war hero. Somehow, Rove managed to make John Kerry look like the guy with the problem.

Rove's approach was very much on display yesterday at Bush's Rose Garden news conference.

The president's current weakness is profound. His war in Iraq appears to be a colossal failure, and as a result the public has turned against him and wants the troops home and safe.

But to hear Bush talk, it's the Democrats who are the party of failure. It's the Democrats who are defying the will of the people. And in the latest, truly dazzling talking point unveiled by the president yesterday, it's the Democrats who would keep the troops in harm's way.

What Rove can still count on, in spite of everything, is that the president's assertions make it into the headlines no matter how dubious they may be -- and that all too many reporters prefer uncritical transcription to the kind of tough but fair analysis that would be required to put what the president says in context.

Here is the transcript and video of yesterday's mini-news conference.

"The bottom line is this," Bush said. "Congress's failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. And others could see their loved ones headed back to the war earlier than they need to. That is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people."

There's so much to unpack just in that one paragraph alone. For one, strictly speaking it's not Congress that would be failing to fund the troops, it would be Bush's veto. Bush of course has promised to veto the bill precisely because it requires him to withdraw troops sooner than he wants, not later. And the American public is overwhelmingly in favor of such a withdrawal.

Consider also Bush's repeated assertion that the Democratic legislation substitutes "the judgment of politicians in Washington for the judgment of our commanders on the ground." It wasn't long ago that Bush replaced the commanders who wouldn't fall in line behind his plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq -- a desperate, last-ditch plan that, by most indications, does not seem to be working.

On CNN with Suzanne Malveaux yesterday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino boiled the White House spin down to its essence: "[I]t's President Bush who is standing firm with the troops, with the Iraqis and with the troops' families. And that's a much better place to be than where the Democrats are," she said. "I think it's the Democrats who have thumbed their noses at the troops."

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