Karl Rove should stay.
The White House confirmed on Monday morning that George W. Bush’s master strategist will be leaving Bush’s side at the end of August. “I just think it’s time,” Rove told The Wall Street Journal‘s Paul Gigot. His reason for bailing on Bush: “There’s always something that can keep you here, as much as I’d like to be here, I’ve got to do this for the sake of my family.” At a White House ceremony, Bush issued a brief farewell to Rove, saying little about the man who made Bush president and whom Bush reportedly nicknamed “Turd Blossom” (for Rove’s ability to grow flowers in dung). Rove, visibly holding back tears, praised Bush for his “integrity, character and decency.” He vowed to be a “fierce and committed advocate [for Bush] on the outside.” Neither said anything explicitly about the Iraq war.
Certainly, a White House aide who has engaged in the sort of political and policy chicanery that Rove has perpetuated ought to lose the right to collect a paycheck from U.S. taxpayers. Take your pick: the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. attorney scandal, the Valerie Plame leak, inaction on global warming, injecting politics into federal agencies to a new degree, suppressing government science, the stem cell veto, tax cuts for the wealthy, politicizing the war on terror. But leaving is too good for Rove. He was Bush’s partner in the Iraq war, yet he (like other Bush aides, including, most recently, Dan Bartlett) are abandoning ship before the fight is done. Rove has argued that the Iraq war is essential for the survival of the United States (that is, for all of our families). So how can he walk away with the war not won?
In June 2006, Rove gave a speech to New Hampshire Republicans and blasted Democrats for advocating “cutting and running” in Iraq. He said of the Democrats, “They may be with you for the first shots. But they’re not going…to be with you for the tough battles.” But isn’t Rove now doing the same on a personal scale? He is departing the White House when the going in Iraq is as tough as it ever was.
In an earlier 2006 speech, Rove exclaimed, “America is at war….To retreat before victory has been won would be a reckless act.” He was, of course, talking about a military retreat. But look at it this way: Rove helped Bush start a war, and now hundreds of thousands of American GIs (and millions of Iraqi civilians) have no choice but to live with the consequences of that decision. Why should Rove–and not they–be allowed to say, Sorry, now I have to bug out to spend more time with my family? How nice for the Roves that he can walk away from the war.
When Bush campaigned for president in 2000, he and Rove dubbed their campaign plane Accountability One. The point: we’re the responsible ones. But a fundamental principle of accountability is that you clean up the messes you create. Rove is not doing that. He will cash in. Maybe with speeches. Perhaps with a book or some private sector spot. Instead, he ought to volunteer for service with one of the few functioning provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. Or perhaps he could conduct seminars on basic electoral skills for tribal leaders in southeastern Afghanistan. (Lesson No. 2: How To Demonize Your Enemy.) If overseas travel would place too much of a burden on his family, he could help clean up a neighborhood in New Orleans.
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Tom and Daisy, “They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Rove is certainly more careful than Fitzgerald’s characters–careful when it comes to politics and doing whatever is necessary to win. But with Bush, he recklessly steered this country into a debacle in Iraq that has caused the death of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and that has ruined the United States’ reputation abroad. Bush, Rove, Dick Cheney and the rest did so with little understanding and with insufficient planning, and they sold the war to the public with bad information and blatant misrepresentations. (Rove was part of the White House Iraq Group that devised the prewar messaging.) Rove deserves not reward but punishment. A fitting sentence would be for Rove to stay to the bitter end so he can sweep up the turds he is now leaving behind.
JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush’s so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: “Indispensable….This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft.” The New York Times called it, “The most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations…fascinating reading.” Tom Brokaw praised it as “a bold and provocative book.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For highlights from Hubris, click here.