A Strategic Blunder to Top All Strategic Blunders

By: Nicholas G. Jenkins

The worse part about the Republicans’ loss of the Senate on Tuesday night was, as Newt Gingrich and outgoing Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter (among others) have since pointed out, it was oh-so avoidable. The war was an albatross for Republicans heading into Election Day — specifically, the Bush Administration’s rhetoric about “staying the course.” As late as November 1, President Bush said he expected Rumsfeld to be with him through the duration of his Administration.

But — and here’s the infuriating part — President Bush’s actions didn’t match his rhetoric. Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has since admitted that, behind the scenes, the Administration was looking for a Rumsfeld replacement. And they had him — Texas A&M president Robert Gates — before the election. As Specter pointed out, it’s “a hard thing to calculate (exactly when Bush settled on Rumsfeld’s successor). But it’s highly doubtful that he made up his mind between the time the election returns came in on Tuesday and Wednesday when Rumsfeld was out.” I’d add: you don’t have the president of Texas A&M show up to a Wednesday morning press conference announcing him as Rumsfeld’s replacement unless he’d already agreed to take the position.

The president’s unfortunate decision to withhold his announcement ended up being a major blunder, probably even a historic one. In the short term, it cost the Republicans the Senate. To wit: a poll on AOL News asked: “Would you have voted differently if you knew Rumsfeld was resigning?” Eight percent (8%) of the 283,363 people who responded as of this writing said “yes.” Eight percent! That’s more than enough to have made a difference, and then some. Both George Allen in Virginia and Conrad Burns in Montana lost their races by less than 1% of their states’ votes. If either Allen or Burns wins, the Republicans keep the Senate.

Medium term, the decision will probably cost America the war. Soon-to-be Majority Leader Harry Reid has made it clear that Senate Democrats will spend the next two years bogging the Administration down with subpoenas and document requests. He calls it “oversight.” The presumptive new Chair of the House Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman of California, echoed the sentiment last week when he said the list of areas of possible Administration wrongdoing is so long that “the most difficult thing will be to pick and choose.” Democratic operative Susan Estrich calls it “Democrats Gone Wild.” The end result of all this — Nancy Pelosi’s headline-grabbing pledge notwithstanding — will, at best, be an Administration that spends the next two years doing little more than responding to document requests. At worse, Democtratic “oversight” could very well result in impeachment hearings — if not for some underlying charge like the well-weathered trumped up WMD’s, then for some perceived shortcoming in responding to subpoenas or document requests. (See Patrick Fitzgerald and Plamegate for precedent on that one.) The best way for the Administration to avoid this — negotate a deal whereby, in exchange for dropping impeachment and investigations ad nauseum, the Democratic leadership gets what it wants. In this case, that’s by announcing a troop withdrawal — er, “redeployment” — from Iraq. In other words: four-plus years, 3,000-some deaths, and untold billions — all for not.

Long term, it may end up costing a lot more. If I’m right about the war winding down, Democrats in Congress can claim that the United States got control of Iraq once the Administration started listening to them. The Republicans strongest card throughout the last generation — foreign policy — will then be in Democratic hands. That will probably be enough to elect a President Obama or Clinton. It will certainly be enough to keep the Senate in Democrat hands through 2008. That means a move left in health care, entitlements, and economic/tax policy, among other areas. It also means the one more conservative Supreme Court appointment needed to kickstart a Roberts revolution ain’t gonna happen.

Worst for all Americans, the very-avoidable election results sent a message to all those who would oppose America abroad that they can affect political change in America — and hence, military victory on the battlefield — if only they keep up the propoganda war. Terrorists now know it’s official: America may not be a paper tiger. But it is surely a tiger run by its papers.

President Bush might have had a good point when he said after the election that announcing Rumsfeld’s ouster before the election would have put off the troops. But it was just that — a point. It was far outweighed by the risk of holding back . The president’s dubious call may well kill two revolutions — the conservative revolution at home, the democratic revolution (battle one: Iraq) abroad. Just a guess, but the mostly-Republican troops will find that to be a far-more offputting result.

Mr. Jenkins is Managing Editor of BoilingFrog.com.

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