Wagging the Dog

In today’s Post, Dana Milbank lets leading figures from both sides decide if the Bush administration is “Wagging the Dog” in Iraq. It’s a good, well-balanced piece, and worth a read, despite being fairly predictable. (Daschle: He’s wagging the dog. Fleischer: No he isn’t.) This is the first article I’ve read that compiles all of the relevant soundbites from the last few weeks:

Karl Rove argued earlier this year that the war on terrorism should be part of Republicans’ campaigns this year. Last week, White House political aides encouraged GOP candidates to emphasize national security. Also, Andrew H. Card Jr., Bush’s chief of staff, said last week that the White House held back on promoting the Iraq policy in the summer because, “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” And Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, made an Iraq vote explicitly political, saying, “People are going to want to know, before the elections, where their representatives stand.”

Once again, I have to begrudgingly applaud the Republicans, who, as Milbank points out, are winning this round. A few weeks ago a Canadian friend asked me to explain why so many Americans were supporting this war. After ranting about Dubya’s supposed “moral authority,” I predicted that he would apply enough political pressure on Congress to force a vote, leaving even the most hesitant Democrats with a choice between supporting a war that they don’t want or looking “soft on terrorism.” Unfortunately, it looks like I was right. Milbank writes:

Whatever the White House motive, the emergence of Iraq as an issue before the election has spooked Democrats, who find themselves struggling for a response. Though there is no consensus for handling the matter, party strategists said the likeliest course is for Democrats to agree to votes quickly on a resolution authorizing force against Hussein — in hopes of getting back to domestic matters.

Of course, while the Democrats struggle to find an answer, Bush has already turned his attention to domestic matters, in a manner of speaking. While his two most eloquent spokesmen, Cheney and Powell, take turns looking Presidential on Meet the Press, Bush is back out doing what he does best: shaking hands, posing for pictures, and sitting down to $1,000 dinners. Remember the good ol’ days of bashing Clinton for his fundraising exploits? He’s got nothin’ on this guy. After visiting Iowa today, Dubya will spend part of tomorrow in my most recent home state, Tennessee, where he’ll be stomping for Lamar Alexander. Yes, that Lamar Alexander. He’s hoping to return to Washington by filling our vacant Senate seat. (Feel free to support his competition.)

And what message will Bush be pushing on the trail? Why the need for “fiscal responsibility,” of course. It seems that we’ve suddenly run into a $157 billion deficit. A note for Karl Rove: please tell Mr. Bush that his $1.35 trillion tax cut may be partly responsible for that crunch and that the war in Iraq will also cost a penny or two. For more info, listen to Terry Gross’s interview with Steve Weisman, author of The Great Tax Wars, who puts the current situation in its proper historical perspective. He mentions, for instance, that no President has ever cut taxes during war. Interesting.