“Bipartisan foreign policy is the ideal for the executive because you can’t run this damned country any other way.... Now the way to do that is to say politics stops at the seaboard, and anyone who denies that postulate is a son-of-a-bitch and a crook and not a true patriot. Now if people will swallow that then you’re off to the races.”
Thus spoke Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s secretary of state, in his classic formulation of extreme partisanship as a bludgeon against partisanship. His calculus was raw, domestic Realpolitik in the pursuit of presidential freedom -- a game of necessity, in Acheson’s opinion, but a game he also clearly held disdain for. Compared to the intricacies of international diplomacy, one can hear him thinking, this domestic-Realpolitik business was little more than a game for simpleminded bullies.
Hence it’s the perfect game for the Bushies. Absent any intricacy of thought whatsoever in foreign policy designs, they can bludgeon away with simpleminded partisanship as a wholesale substitute. It’s not quite what Acheson had in mind -- his formula involved some actual policies here and there -- but it’s just what the Doctor (Strangelove) ordered for an administration borne of demagoguery and nurtured by an all too indulgent base.
You may have thought that upcoming national elections would be an ideal opportunity for a practical debate, for instance, on what in the hell we’re doing in Iraq. But you would be wrong. It is, rather, an ideal opportunity for the Bush administration to utterly distract from all things Iraqi and concentrate instead on the issue of competence. Not the administration’s competence, mind you, but the out-of-power party’s competence, which the Bushies are twisting in their uniquely cute way as a kind of unpatriotic incompetence.
As Jim VandeHei of the WP reported, the first part of the president’s “two-front strategy for protecting the Republican congressional majority in an ominous political climate” is to “hammer Democrats on national security” (the other front -- surprise -- lies in labeling Dems as big taxers, and by implication -- try not to gag -- big spenders).
Friday “at a luncheon fundraiser [in Indianapolis], Bush repeatedly called [Republican Rep. Michael] Sodrel an indispensable ally in fighting terrorism, and emphasized his support for the military and a robust U.S. foreign policy. Sodrel, he said, ‘understands this is a nation at war’ against terrorists intent on striking America again. It is imperative that voters elect candidates who know that ‘there is an enemy which hates those of us who embrace freedom and would like to strike us again.’”
Yes, unlike your average Democrat, Mike Sodrel is a competent guy. He hates terrorists, unlike your average Dem. He understands war, unlike your average Dem. He knows we have enemies who hate us, unlike your average Dem. Oh, and he supports the military, unlike every Dem. See? The war in Iraq is improving already, and we didn’t even have to address it.
And then there is übercommander-in-chief Dick Cheney, who, also on Friday at another Republican candidate’s fundraiser, “portrayed the entire Democratic leadership as wobbly in the fight against terrorism.” Railed the veep: “Leading Democrats have demanded a sudden withdrawal from the battle against terrorists in Iraq -- the very kind of retreat that Osama bin Laden has been predicting. And with that sorry record, the leaders of the Democratic Party have decided to run on the theme of competence.”
Ah, not only are Democrats incompetent, they are, by implication, in active league with bin Laden. Never mind that that ridiculous charge would have ensnarled the veep in a bloody duel of honor two centuries ago. It was enough -- nicely introduced by the equally ridiculous charge that Dems “have demanded a sudden withdrawal” -- to distract from the inextricable mess in Iraq that the Bushies have made.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that the Democrats are competent. Lord knows they do their best in battling that charge. I’d just like to hear a debate. But what we’ll likely get instead is endless coverage of how effective the Bush strategy is by degrees, which will drive any debate into obscurity and in itself imbue the strategy with effectiveness. And the Bushies know it. It’s just another little twist on Dean Acheson’s cynical maxim.