Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Through Republicans' Eyes . . . .

. . . . White House misjudged how presidential campaign would radicalize Democrats against Iraq war.

For Examiner, Bill Sammon writes:

President Bush’s chief of staff says White House officials misjudged how much the presidential campaign would radicalize the Democratic Party against the Iraq war.

In an interview for the new book, “The Evangelical President,” White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said he and other administration officials did not expect the Democratic presidential candidates to pull their party so sharply to the left.

“A lot of us probably underestimated the potency of presidential politics in all of this,” Bolten told The Examiner in his West Wing office. “The need of every candidate to remain in good stead with the Democratic Party’s left wing has pretty dramatically dragged not just the candidates, but the whole party to the left.”

Bolten said the phenomenon has been accelerated by the fact that primary elections and caucuses for the 2008 presidential cycle are scheduled earlier than ever before, creating pressure on the candidates to pacify the party’s liberal base.

“They have to move to the view rapidly that will satisfy the left wing of their party and I think that’s bled over into the approach of the Democratic leadership,” Bolten said. “It shifted more rapidly than I thought.”

Bolten said Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress “moved the party more rapidly and radically to the left on the war than you might have expected.” The leaders themselves are being pulled leftward by their party’s “netroots,” the uncompromising activists who write the liberal blogs proliferating across the Internet.

The resulting political acrimony between liberals and conservatives over Iraq is a far cry from 2002 when the parties agreed that Saddam Hussein should be removed.

“In the ideal world, there would be a consensus, a bipartisan consensus about how to go forward,” Bush told The Examiner in an Oval Office interview. “Whether or not that’s achievable, time will tell.”

Bush expressed sympathy for lawmakers who are being pressured by anti-war forces.

“I’m not going to second-guess anybody’s motives; it’s just a very difficult political environment for members of Congress,” the president said. “They’re worried about the different consequences of different decisions. And we’re constantly listening.”

Vice President Dick Cheney was less willing to give anti-war Democrats the benefit of the doubt.

“There are some who are against it just because we’re for it, who are looking for any excuse they can come up with to try to defeat George Bush and the Republicans. Substance doesn’t have much to do with it,” Cheney told The Examiner in his West Wing office. “I think it’s very shortsighted on their part, because if they prevail, then ultimately they’re going to have to deal with the world as it is, having opposed all of those things that have made it possible for us to be successful.”

These include controversial anti-terror measures such as the Patriot Act and the terrorist surveillance program. Although Bush has been working to institutionalize these programs, they could be undone by Democrats in the future, Cheney warned.

“A couple of possible outcomes here,” he said. “One is, obviously, the Democrats ultimately prevail and implement the policy they claim they support. I think it will do enormous damage. On the other hand, I think, ultimately, the country would look at that and make a decision that the Democrats can’t be trusted with the nation’s security.”

Karl Rove, who until this month was the president’s closest political adviser, said that even if a Democrat wins the White House next year, he or she will find it difficult to reverse Bush’s policies in the war on terrorism.

“What American president in the foreseeable future is going to say, ‘You know what? Let’s not rock the boat. Let’s accept the fact that we have authoritarian regimes that allow their people no means of expression, except through radical madrassas. We don’t need to foster democracy,’” Rove told The Examiner. “It’s going to be hard for any president of the United States to step away from the Bush Doctrine: If you feed a terrorist, arm a terrorist, train a terrorist, host a terrorist, you’re just as bad as a terrorist. It’s going to be very hard.

“People may be able to nibble around the edges, but future presidents — for the foreseeable future — are going to adopt the doctrine that we cannot wait until dangers fully materialize. We must take necessary pre-emptive action. The question is going to be what’s necessary and pre-emptive, but that doctrine is ingrained.”

In addition to being surprised by the impact of Democratic presidential politics on the war agenda, the White House has had difficulty adjusting to the new reality of this year’s Democratically controlled Congress.

“What’s different — and I think something of a shock to the system here — is we cannot control the agenda,” Bolten said. “And so if they want to talk about subpoenas … they can do it. They can dictate what the conversation is about and when it’s going to be.”

Another Bush aide groused that the White House can no longer hold cooperative discussions with the leadership of the House and Senate about the legislative agenda.

“We’ve gone from being able to know and discuss and plan,” the official said, “to basically having to wait for whatever the latest episodic revelation that’s handed down from the mountain.

“It requires you to be reactive, in a tactical sense. The way to sort of get above that is to be more ... strategically pro-active,” he said. “It also requires us to rely more on the Senate than we have. In the past, we used the House to drive action. Now we work with our Senate colleagues to both drive action and redirect action.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed grudging admiration for the ability of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an unabashed liberal, to control her caucus.

“What’s amazing,” the official said, “is that they have been able to effect discipline on people. You’ll have a conversation and somebody will say, in essence, ‘I’m not for the first measure that we’re using for withdrawal, but I’ve got to vote for it because the leadership has told me I’ve got to. It’s not where I am, but I feel obligated.’ Or, ‘I’m uncomfortable about the budget resolution because it’s got way too much in taxes and not enough in spending restraint, but I’ve got to vote for it.’”

Bolten agreed. “Speaker Pelosi has turned out to be a stronger figure than most people expected,” he said, adding that she “is a tougher disciplinarian on her party than most people expected.”