Baker-Hamilton Accelerates Bush's Downward Slide
Reuters photo of Bush and his senior Iraq advisor
As Bush continues with his “I’m listening (to only some of you) tour”, the White House has just announced that his rollout a "new" policy will now be delayed until after Christmas while signaling that this does not mean any change in course, but rather a desire to "get it right" this time. Worse yet, NBC News is hearing that the announcement may be pushed back to January. It's too late, as the public tells CBS News and the ABC/WaPo in new polls that they want a major change in course but don't expect Bush to do so. So putting off a major announcement of what hopefully would be a change in course, that may in fact be a "stay the course" announcement until after another month of bad news over the holidays will only make the eventual announcement even more harmful to the administration.
The New York Times and the Washington Post tell us this morning that Bush is meeting with critics of the report, and that an internal debate is underway as to how much the administration should pressure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to rein in the Shiite militias, with Dick Cheney and the NSA telling Bush to go lightly on al-Maliki over fear that too much pressure would topple the government. This sounds like something Cheney would say, since he is the one arguing for the “80 Percent Solution”, whereby we side with the Shiites against the Sunnis, and Cheney is against anything that would shorten our time in the country. Yet while Cheney is afraid of forcing al-Maliki’s hand directly, the Bush Administration is working around al-Maliki anyway by building a coalition amongst the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Iranian-backed SCIRI to marginalize him and Muqtada al-Sadr. As the story indicates, any move by the SCIRI and al-Maliki to isolate al-Sadr and reduce his political imprint threatens an open rejection from Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani that would split the Shiites and turn thousands into the streets against both the government and the Sunnis, which could be the endgame Shooter is really looking for. Against this continued dawdling by the White House, there were more car bombings in Baghdad today, killing scores of Iraqis.
A new CBS News poll shows Bush’s approval rating falling to its lowest ever, only 31%. Worse yet for the president, the public’s approval of his Iraqi policies has now fallen to only 21%, a number that threatens to make any new pronouncement from him about policy changes moot, since the public has seemingly thrown in the towel on Bush’s handling of the war, and the war itself, with 62% now saying the war was a mistake. The poll shows that even Republicans are moving away from the administration, as Bush suffered a 23-point drop (from 70% to 47%) in one month just from Republicans in their support of his handling of the war. Fifty-seven percent of those polled want Bush to announce a major change in course. This means that short of a redeployment and adoption of the popular Iraq Study Group recommendations by Bush at his
December 18th sometime-in-January rollout of a “new” policy, his announcement runs the risk of sealing him in a tomb of irrelevance on Iraq for the remainder of his term as the Democrats take over next month. By a 2-1 margin, the poll’s respondents had more confidence in congressional Democrats to handle the war.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll out this morning shows that Bush’s approval rating in that typically-friendly GOP poll has fallen four points in a month to 36%, and that 70% of those polled now disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war. Like the CBS News’ poll, which showed an 8-point drop in one month for Bush’s handling of the war, this ABC News/Post poll finds a 7-point drop in Bush’s support in one month on Iraq.
After losing an election, and with the Baker-Hamilton report destroying a positive narrative on his handling of the war, Bush is no longer an 800-pound gorilla with the base. His likely rejection of large parts of the report and the lack of a major course change announcement
on December 18th sometime in January will bury Bush for the remainder of his term, as the Democrats take over the agenda. Having his legs knocked out from under him on Iraq will drag down any Republicans who stick with him (hello John McCain). The party’s 2008 candidates and members of Congress will find it necessary to either distance themselves from Bush on Iraq or pay a political price.