Sunday, April 23, 2006

KEVIN DRUM LINKS TO A TIME MAGAZINE ARTICLE about the Bush administration's six-month plan to keep the Republicans in control of Congress. Among other things, the White House has come up with a "5-point plan for success," the heart of which, apparently, is "getting tough" with Iran. The administration is counting on bringing down the Democrats by beating the war drums again. Kevin thinks it might not work this time:

You'll also want to check out the White House's 5-point plan for success, which turns out to have approximately zero actual substance except for one thing: a plan to get tough with the mullahs. "In the face of the Iranian menace, the Democrats will lose," says an unnamed GOP apparatchik. Maybe so, but this time I wonder. It sometimes seems that the American public really does have an unending appetite for "getting tough" with whichever enemy du jour the White House casts its increasingly feckless gaze on, but I think it's just possible that Bush might have gone to this well one time too many. Getting tough hasn't worked out too well so far, and the public might well be ready for some straight talk on the subject.

I think Kevin is mistaken. On this point, I agree with John Dean, who is certain that the Bush administration will come up with an "October surprise," and that the public will fall for it:

As the 2006 midterm elections approach, this active/negative president can be expected to take further risks. If anyone doubts that Bush, Cheney, Rove and their confidants are planning an "October Surprise" to prevent the Republicans from losing control of Congress, then he or she has not been observing this presidency very closely.

What will that surprise be? It's the most closely held secret of the Administration.

How risky will it be? Bush is a whatever-it-takes risk-taker, the consequences be damned.

One possibility is that Dick Cheney will resign as Vice President for "health reasons," and become a senior counselor to the president. And Bush will name a new vice president -- a choice geared to increase his popularity, as well as someone electable in 2008. It would give his sinking administration a new face, and new life.

The immensely popular Rudy Giuliani seems the most likely pick, if Giuliani is willing. (A better option for Giuliani might be to hold off, and tacitly position himself as the Republican anti-Bush in 2008.) But Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Bill Frist, and more are possibilities.

Bush's second and more likely, surprise could be in the area of national security: If he could achieve a Great Powers coalition (of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and so on) presenting a united-front "no nukes" stance to Iran, it would be his first diplomatic coup and a political triumph.

But more likely, Bush may mount a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - hoping to rev up his popularity. (It's a risky strategy: A unilateral hit on Iran may both trigger devastating Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq, with high death tolls, and increase international dislike of Bush for his bypass of the U.N. But as an active/negative President, Bush hardly shies away from risk.) Another rabbit-out-of-the-hat possibility: the capture of Osama bin Laden.

If there is no "October Surprise," I would be shocked. And if it is not a high-risk undertaking, it would be a first. Without such a gambit, and the public always falls for them, Bush is going to lose control of Congress. Should that happen, his presidency will have effectively ended, and he will spend the last two years of it defending all the mistakes he has made during the first six, and covering up the errors of his ways.

There is, however, the possibility of another terrorist attack, and if one occurred, Americans would again rally around the president -- wrongly so, since this is a presidency that lives on fear-mongering about terror, but does little to truly address it. The possibility that we might both suffer an attack, and see a boost to Bush come from it, is truly a terrifying thought.

It's also depressing to think that Americans have such an unretentive collective memory that Bush could quite possibly, and even probably, start a war against Iran using the same justifications he used with Iraq -- and get a majority of the public behind him. Sadly, though, I believe that it's true.

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