Here is how things work today at the top levels of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
One of the Republican party’s most prominent senators, a former Secretary of the Navy and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, returns from Iraq with his assessment of the circumstance on the ground. That assessment is based on conversations with military commanders and intelligence personnel who seek him out as one of the truest friends the U.S. military has in Congress, as well as on his own experience as one of the savviest observers of international affairs in Washington.
On the same day, a magazine editor who has consistently been wrong about Iraq, has no formal or serious contact with military commanders on the ground and is broadly considered to be so biased with regard to developments in the region that his judgment cannot be trusted, pipes up with his latest theory about why the occupation is going great.
Which of the two statements does the Republican National Committee use all of its considerable communications resources to highlight: that of the party’s respected senior senator or that of the discredited magazine editor?
For the ideological zombies running the RNC these days, the answer is easy: Go with the guy who always gets Iraq wrong.
And so the RNC did. On the day that U.S. Senator John Warner, R-Virginia, suggested that the crisis on the ground in Iraq is so severe that the Bush White House must send a dramatic message by announcing the withdrawal of at least five thousand soldiers — as part of a long-term strategy to extract U.S. troops from a distant and dysfunctional quagmire — the RNC was busy promoting an interview in which William Kristol challenged Warner’s view.
Never mind that Kristol, the former aide to Vice President Dan Quayle who now edits Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard magazine, rendered himself internationally ridiculous with his completely off-the-mark assessments of Middle East dynamics before and after the occupation of Iraq began. Never mind that Kristol remains firmly in the "don’t-bother-me-with-the-facts" camp as regards the war. Never mind that Kristol’s own recent trip to Iraq was undertaken not with the purpose of finding out what is actually going on but with the point of "proving" that President Bush’s "surge" strategy is working.
It is Kristol’s criticism of John Warner that the RNC characterizes as the big "news" of the day.
Claiming that Warner’s statements after completing a fact-finding mission to Iraq were not "based on serious military analysis," Kristol asserted to NBC’s Matt Lauer that, "Things are going better enough that we should sustain the current strategy, which is working."
For the record, Warner, who is generally seen as the Republican senator with the best sources of information within the military, says that it is time to begin an "orderly and carefully planned withdrawal."
Warner believes that only by doing so will Bush "send a sharp and clear message" to the Iraqis about the need for them to step up to the responsibility of managing their country.
"I can think of no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th [of September] that, in consultation with our senior military commanders, he’s decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of armed forces," says Warner. "I say to the president respectfully, ‘Pick whatever number you wish.’ … Say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year. That’s the first step."
The Republican National Committee is not representing Republicans these days. It is representing the worst elements within the Bush White House, as shamelessly as the Democratic National Committee represented the Clinton White House when the former president was getting key trade and economic issues wrong a decade ago. Perhaps we can expect no more of the party committee of a sitting president. But what a sad circumstance it is when the Republican National Committee leads the attack on a senior Republican senator whose patriotism calls him to speak truth in a time of tragic misdirection by a inept and soon-to-be-former Republican president.
John Nichols’ new book is