Let's pretend it's 1999, and you are part of the group which has anointed George W. Bush the next Republican nominee. You're part of the Brain Trust, or the Brain Transplant. Look beyond getting the nomination--you're already the preemptive favorite, you've got money to burn, a host of operatives to do the dirty work, and a national press which is already hacking away at Al Gore the way it's been hacking at his boss the past eight years. You've got time to write up the agenda for the first term. Whaddya do? You make sure to call any win a "mandate". You're the Un-Clinton. While staking a public claim on compassion, responsibility, and a return to civility, you refuse to distance yourself from the incivility of the past, because Clinton deserved it. Your inaugural speech will backhand the man, never refer to him after the introduction, ignore his accomplishments. You will not note an America which has been uncommonly prosperous for eight years, an America which has been at peace but unafraid to use its military to halt needless slaughter; there will be no acknowledgment that it was your predecessor who accomplished what Ronald Reagan promised for sixteen years on the campaign trail: bringing the national debt under control and combatting government waste. Once in office, of course, you will continue to trash the Clintons, the easiest way to take attention off yourself while burnishing your own star in comparison.
[Vandalgate. Giftgate. Pardongate. Have you thought about them lately? Thought about how Ari Fleischer was permitted to promise evidence he never delivered, until Bush declared the matter "closed" two months later, as though he were issuing his own pardon for acts that never occurred? Ever considered that anyone with a modicum of public knowledge, let alone a political insider, could have suggested just those three areas as potential scandals? You likely recognized it at the time. Funny that it didn't occur to the source-checkers of professional journalism.]
There was plenty of reason to be irate in December 2000. I was. Yet although there will never been a condition of trust between me and the Republican party, it was not until Bush acceptance speech, in front of the "bipartisan" Texas state legislature, that I washed my hands of him. All I wanted was what was reasonable to expect: that George Bush would acknowledge more people had voted against him than for him, that the method of his ascension was, to say the least, a cause for consternation among his opponents and concern for the nation at large. I never got it. I got a stump speech. Within a week of the 2000 Selection some of his people were actually talking mandate. It was at that point I became convinced the Bush playbook was already written and they were going ahead with it, disputed election and majority of voters be damned.
So, here's my question. Given that you're helping to write that playbook, when would you plan on invading Iraq?
My answer? Spring of 2003. Precisely when we did. Invading before the midterm elections was out of the question politically. Ginning up war fever heading into them was the way to play it, forcing Democrats into the up-or-down vote they were maneuvered into in exchange for a UN hearing you planned to circumvent if it came to that. You can't invade in the heat of summer; waiting until the following winter runs too many risks. Eighteen months is just about right. Get it over with and still have plenty of time to lead a few parades before 2004.
I suspect that a lot of you agree with the assessment. But next time I want to talk about that in light of the Downing Street minutes, and look at some of the ramifications of a purely political calculation you may not have considered.