Bush's (Possible) Five-Point Iraq Exit Strategy

For the time being, as Dick Cheney derides Ned Lamont voters as terror enablers and Karl Rove claims that Democrats "ignore the difficulties and walk away," the "stay the course" Iraq War/Election-2006 strategy will hold.

And while many are convinced the Green Zone Disneywarland in Baghdad is proof positive the Bush brain trust is in Iraq to stay, we should not discount the recent events in Lebanon and the deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq, and their effects on the strategists deep inside the Pentagon and White House.

With Reagan's Beirut exit, Clinton's Somalia retreat and U.S. helicopter airlifts in Saigon still vivid memories for many a neocon, a defeat in Iraq would be a crushing blow. With a virtual lock on every branch of government -- who's to blame? So when they see 10,000 Iranian manufactured and delivered rockets raining on Israel at will, they have to wonder.

How easy would it be for the Iraq insurgents to import rockets from neighboring Iran? How hard would it be to hide those rockets in a wild and chaotic Baghdad? And what are the chances that insurgents could launch 30 to 40 rockets directly into the Green Zone in one day? The headlines around the world reading "500 U.S. Dead -- Last Safe Haven Under Siege?" The result? Game over.

So one has to assume discussions are taking place on an exit strategy. And since this is the Bush administration, where reality is irrelevant, truth is secondary and public relations victories are all-important, let's play exit strategy, Bush style.

People forget that people forget.

Let me say it again in a different way … in case you forgot. Progressives forget that Americans forget. But Karl Rove doesn't. And if the instant media switch to "All Israel, All Lebanon, All the Time" doesn't convince you how ready America is to forget the Iraq war, just you wait.

In a recent Sunday New York Times, Frank Rich documented how Lebanon instantly replaced the Iraq war on cable and broadcast news, even as one of the more incredible stories of the entire war appeared that week, also in the Times -- the July 19 cover story -- "Iraq Death Toll Rises Above 100 Per Day, U.N. Says."

For months, as Iraq deteriorated, the press danced around the term "civil war." And then in one fell swoop, the U.N. reported death rates triple the rates for May 2006 (969 up to 2,669) and quadruple the figures reported in June (738 up to 3,149) that were commonly reported using the Iraq Coalition Casualty Report. The Times called the figures "an enormous increase over figures published by media organizations and by nongovernmental organizations that track these trends."

That same day, one Baghdad suicide bombing alone killed 53 and wounded at least 105. And when the Iraqi police arrived, they were stoned by the crowd! What would have been major cover stories only a year earlier were now buried in newsprint and glanced over on TV news. So how does this stew of denial, chaos and civil war translate into a victory march?

Here's one scenario.

Phase One: Transitional civil war

It starts with the generals: Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld repeatedly remind us they are driving the car. Remember, Bush is too strong to follow public opinion when it comes to troop strength or other strategic and tactical decisions. He listens to his experts on the ground. So the first step will be a gradual adjusting of the recent generals' "civil war" analysis from a negative sounding "slide" into a more positive and uplifting "transition." This new phase will, of course, require a fresh tactical and strategic approach and further study by the military.

Phase Two: Iraqi government asks us to leave

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, standing proudly with his military and security team, will make a major address thanking the Americans for everything accomplished thus far and announce: "We can take it from here." He will ask our troops to retreat to the borders in virtually the same strategic role suggested by congressman Murtha, but this won't be a "cut and run" approach suggested by wimpy Democrat. It will be a carefully determined strategy created by Iraq military brass and the freely elected and independent government of Iraq.

Phase Three: Civil war is good

Of course, this new "transitional civil war" will be painted as a necessary and understandable period in the march to democracy. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and the entire right-wing media machine will swarm the news shows and talk forcefully about how many years it took for the U.S. to travel from the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to a Constitution and our first president in 1789. How "transitional civil war" is a necessary step that now requires our troops to get out of the way. Dick Cheney will talk about how "lucky" the Iraqis are to have already entered the civil war phase -- "the United States had to wait a full 60 years to make that necessary transition to a more perfect union". We will hear about the Shay Rebellion and every minor misstep and outbreak Rove and his minions can find in the messy American march to democracy.

Phase Four: The mission was accomplished

With our generals and the Iraq government now in-sync, Hannity and Team Republican will begin to hammer away at how we DID accomplish our goals in Iraq. We will be reminded that the "mission" was to depose a dangerous dictator who was hell-bent on blowing up the world, supportive of 9/11 and sponsoring terrorism. How Saddam's WMD intentions were dismantled, and his dangerous military deneutered. How the United States successfully orchestrated three elections and helped the Iraq people create a solid constitution and a path to democracy. And now, with a terrific U.S.-inspired democratic framework in place, the Iraqi Army and government would handle the next steps to self-reliance. The Iraqi people would sort things out, and eventually -- in five to 10 years perhaps --- achieve democracy.

Phase Five: The assault on defeatist, unpatriotic liberals and democrats

This will be the fun part for Ken Melman and Karl Rove. War heroes will be honored. Memorials erected. Candidates McCain and Giuliani will talk about our valiant stand against terrorism on the streets of Baghdad. Any mention of defeat or wasted funds will be painted as an insult to all of the brave men and women who fought for freedom. We will be reminded again and again -- no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, Hussein is in jail and Iraq is on the road to freedom. Democrats will be brutally attacked for whining and putting down America and our military -- again. Democrats will see a populace happy the troops are home, and feel boxed-in by the Republicans' relentless attack on their anti-U.S., do-nothing, wimpy foreign policy -- again. The Republicans stood Hussein down, took the fight to the terrorists and freed a country. 9/11! 9/11! 9/11!

Let's face it, there won't be a lot of Iraqi's complaining as we exit. Most will conclude things can't get any worse -- so we might as well fight this out among ourselves. Old-school conservatives will be glad our interventionist phase is over. Neocons will argue that chaos was always Plan B, and even if a divided and weakened Iraq eventually emerges -- that is also success. Anything was preferable to a centralized and powerful Saddam. Progressives will be happy about the withdrawal and fight like hell to convince the country the loss of life and $1 trillion spent was a colossal waste -- and a foreign policy failure. But since no American citizen will be able to easily describe the Democratic alternative -- more troops? fewer troops? better planning? more cooperation with the French? the U.N.? -- Americans will be happy to forget and move on. What's a trillion dollars among friends?

And the future in this scenario? Lots of juicy contracts will be awarded to rebuild and retrain the military in Democratic districts. The endless war against terrorism will go on. With our troops out of harm's way, President McCain will be free to exercise the kind of anti-terror, aerial-only campaigns Americans prefer. Vice President Giuliani will spearhead "Operation Home-Turf" -- a $100 billion bipartisan effort to kill two birds with one stone -- terror and immigration. A national ID card, immigration strangling, shipping-container sensitive, port-security, domestic-tracking apparatus all security-minded Americans will be happy to support.

Afghanistan? A distant memory. "Let them have over there, so they don't want to come over here" will be the new unspoken motto. Let the Middle East go back to hating Jews, like the good old days. Giving lots of money to Israel is far preferable to sending troops, and cheaper too. Israel has bombs landing in their backyards -- and people openly calling for their annihilation -- so bombing Iran's nuclear facilities is easily justifiable. Let them do the dirty work. And Iraqis will fight among themselves, a pro-west strongman will emerge and order will be restored.

So Democrats and progressives will be tearing their hair out again -- if they have any hair left. We simply won't be able to understand how the Right turns a war-centric calamity into victory and a path to election for McCain-Giuliani, anymore than we understood how Kerry became an anti-U.S. war vet and Bush a flyboy. The new progressive strategy of the "common good" and "we are in this together" will be crushed again by Rambo America.

A cynical fantasy? I hope so. But in battle, it is better to anticipate any scenario. So be prepared.

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