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Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006 06:40 pm

Excuses, excuses

Right-wing scribes and pundits scramble to protect Bush

As President George W. Bush’s position on Iraq has become more embattled and folks in the White House have become increasingly isolated, it’s fallen to right-wing scribes and pundits to provide the commander-in-chief with some means of escape from the disaster he’s created.

So I thought I’d walk you through a few recent right-wing attempts to help the president pass the buck.

First up is Stanley Kurtz, writing in the National Review Online.

Kurtz agrees that the president has made some mistakes. But the real culprit, in his view, turns out to be the base of the Democratic Party, which, in Kurtz’s words, has “acted as a major constraint on our policy in Iraq.”

So why did the president and Don Rumsfeld opt to put too few troops into Iraq back in 2003 to secure law and order — and too few today to arrest the continuing slide into oblivion?

Anti-war Democrats (showing what can only be called an uncharacteristic influence on the Bush administration) stopped them.

When Vietnam stalwarts blamed Democrats for keeping President Richard M. Nixon from winning the war in Vietnam, there was at least a theoretical logic to the argument. I don’t agree with it, and I think pretty much any reasonably minded historical judgment would concur. But in the late 1960s and early ’70s the Democrats did control the Congress and thus the national purse strings, oversight, and whatever measure of bully pulpit Congress amounts to, so there were at least some logical means that congressional Democrats could have used to break Nixon’s stride.

But what excuse does Bush have? His party has controlled the Congress with lockstep majorities for his entire presidency. The one exception came in the Senate, in 2001 and 2002 — and that was before the Iraq war even started. Maybe Kurtz isn’t talking about Democrats in Congress but the diarists at Daily Kos or the protesters at a few anti-war rallies. But unless I’m mistaken, we’ve been treated to half a dozen-years of commentary and news about how the Democrats were defeated, impotent, divided, and generally just lame. Because Howard Dean was so early and outspoken in his criticism, by Kurtz’s logic, I assume this means he prevented Bush from winning the Iraq war.

But, really, how can the president blame anything on a powerless minority in Congress and not indict himself as the weakest and most pitiful chief executive the republic has ever had?

For six years Bush enjoyed a gelded opposition, a pliant press corps, and a public inclined to give the commander in chief most benefits of the doubt because of the scarring wound of 9/11 — yet, taken together, these folks have tied his hands and kept him from winning the war?

Then there’s Michael Novak, writing at the Weekly Standard.

In Novak’s view, the president isn’t responsible, either. As it turns out, the folks who lost the Iraq war are sitting in a few newsrooms in New York and Washington, D.C.

Says Novak, what “we have discovered in Iraq is the weakest link in the ability of the United States to sustain military operations overseas. That link is the U.S. media. They are Islamists’ best friends.”

Of course, neither Kurtz nor Novak really decided to swing for the bleachers when it comes to giving the president a pass on his Middle Eastern quagmire. But Mort Kondracke did.

According to him, the problem isn’t that Bush lied about the original reasons for getting into the war or that he botched the occupation once we got into the country — none of that. The problem, says Kondracke, is with the American people themselves.

“President Bush bet his presidency — and America’s world leadership — on the war in Iraq. Tragically,” writes Kondracke, “it looks as though he bit off more than the American people were willing to chew.”

Apparently president’s great error isn’t something he did wrong or got wrong in Iraq. His tragic misstep was not realizing that the American people would betray him as he marched into history.

So it’s the powerless Democrats, the pliant press, or the essential ingratitude and cowardice of the American people. Take your pick — they’re all on offer as explanations and excuses for why Bush’s grand plans have come to such an ignominious end.

Joshua Micah Marshall writes for The Hill in Washington, D.C.

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