Events flowed thick and fast after Christmas 2006. The new Congress was sworn in on schedule, but the death of two presidents, unscheduled, crowded out a lot of news that should have received more than passing notice.
First, however, a sign of the times: when I told a neighbor that the Post Office would not deliver mail on the day after New Year’s because of the president’s funeral, she replied, "What? They’re doing that for Saddam Hussein?"
Moving right along: there are many corridors of power in Washington, but none closer to the president than his core "team" — and last week, his team not only took a beating, it took a powder.
Of course, he has already fired Don Rumsfeld, but now the other shoe is falling: he is firing his two top generals in Iraq. Moreover, as I predicted in 2004, and as Pat Buchanan now confirms, the neocons — who are responsible for the Iraq fiasco in the first place — are now blaming Bush, rather than themselves — evidently, for his stupidity in letting them take him for a ride (although they aren’t exactly phrasing it that way). So Bush is facing withering criticism not only from the usual suspects (the Democrat majorities on the Hill), but from the head honchos of his former protection racket.
In years past, such betrayal would not have been an insurmountable problem. The White House was always famous for the leakproof security blanket it offered the Decider. In Bush’s innermost intimate circle, he was always worshipped, no matter what. And that made what he constantly refers to as the "hard work" of the presidency a little easier.
In the din of the noise of the political universe, you might have missed the fact — which I consider to be critically relevant — that Bush’s security blanket is unraveling. Fast and furious. And, while it is impossible to predict how Bush will change as a result, I believe that it is inevitable that he will.
The four pillars of Bush’s love trust — the fawning women who have adored him, no matter what, for the past six years and more — are crumbling, tumbling down like the walls of Jericho. For years, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes, Harriet Miers, and Laura Bush have bolstered Bush and exalted him in a fashion rarely seen, even in the capital City of the Mortal Gods that Washington has become (with apologies to Thomas Hobbes). But now three of the Four Horsewomen are quickly riding off into the sunset, and we can only pray that the Apocalypse is not far behind.
It was not surprising that White House Counsel Harriet Miers quietly announced she would resign. Faced with a fierce opposition party in congress, Bush can expect an avalanche of subpoenas and endless investigations. Miers might be a comforting prayer partner for the prez, but she is woefully incompetent, as was revealed for all to see in her temporary Supreme Court nomination. She was simply not up to the job.
On the same day that Miers resigned came the news that John Negroponte would leave his post as Intelligence Czar. He will assume a lower post, as deputy to Condoleezza Rice. Suddenly the State Department, like the White House counsel’s office, needs an adult instead of an adulator. And Negroponte’s appointment is certainly intended to shore up Rice’s meager talents, now that Congress, like the world, has become a more hostile place.
An aside: Negroponte is a smart operator, and he knows it. He took over the U.S. Embassy in Iraq after the imperial viceroy Paul Bremer’s disastrous performance — an assignment which the smug Bremer assumed would be a springboard to succeeding Colin Powell as Secretary of State. Bremer’s precipitous fall from grace made him the whipping boy for critics of anything and everything going wrong in Iraq, and he didn’t take it lightly. He disappeared from view, emerging only to have his private bodyguards terrorize a mother and child in the parking lot of a Washington grocery store.
According to the Washington Post, the mother made the mistake of getting between Bremer’s thugs and his bombproof, bulletproof, oversize SUV. The bodyguards, for whom the U.S. Government reportedly pays about half a million a year apiece, wouldn’t even let her comfort her screaming child, who had already gotten into her car. And that’s the last Washington saw of L. Paul Bremer.
Negroponte also managed to get through his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations without the avalanche of criticism that was heaped on his successor, John Bolton. He is a master tactician, a survivor, and is not at all ignorant of ideas. He once remarked — dare I say boasted — to me that, at Yale, he had been the only student besides William F. Buckley, Jr., to receive an “A” from Willmoore Kendall, the brilliant political theorist. Personally, I do not think Mr. Negroponte intends to end his career as anybody else’s number two.
But I digress. The timing of Ms. Miers’s departure is not happenstance. The troika of Condi, Harriet, and Karen has crashed and burned. For months now, Karen Hughes, the Texas wonder-worker who was supposedly the vanguard of America’s "public diplomacy," has virtually disappeared from public view. Harriet Miers had become the laughing stock of the country after her failed nomination to the Supreme Court (and conservatives, while not laughing, still harbor towards her other sentiments). Condi Rice, who has never performed much above the third-rate level of Madeline Albright, is now a basket case — and thus, John Negroponte has been sent in to shore her up as the new Democrat committee chairmen begin their endless weeks of hearings that will, no doubt, repeatedly feature none other than Condi Rice.
Bush is known to be stubborn, and not to linger in introspective contemplation; but if he has a wistful moment, he might shake his head and realize, it did not have to be this way. On the road to war, Bush Cheney, Rumsfeld, and even Wolfowitz arrogantly and repeatedly stiff-armed the Congress — the Republican Congress. Cheney and Co. treated the Republicans on the Hill like lapdogs, dishing out scorn when senior senators like Dick Lugar — chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee — privately evidenced their dismay. Meanwhile, back at the White House, Bush’s four fawns gathered lovingly to stroke the president’s bold genius: all was well, and would be, they assured him.
This mood of exaltation spread to the president’s spokesmen, who repeatedly assured Republicans on the Hill and conservatives around town that Bush was just … well, magnificent. Seasoned conservatives and senior party leaders did indeed gnash their teeth in private contempt, but they managed to keep a straight face in public.
With the elections, that last ingredient is gone for good. Could it have been otherwise? Yes, with some sanity and common sense in the White House. But Bush kissed that goodbye a long, long time ago.
From this day forward the new Democrat leadership in the House and Senate will not cover up for Bush’s ignorance. No, they are going to spotlight it for all it’s worth, day in and day out. Not only will the emperor have no clothes, he will have no courtiers: in classic Saul Alinsky fashion, Democrats will concentrate their fire first on one, then another, of Bush’s second- and third-tier appointees — and Condi, who has always been out of her depth, will not wear well under the new, hotter, more focused fire. In fact, Negroponte’s new position might well be quite temporary: he might be SecState-in-waiting — waiting, that is, for Condi to collapse.
As Lenin reportedly said, "probe; when you meet steel, withdraw; when you meet no resistance, push hard."
There will be little steel, but plenty of pushing, when the opportunistic opposition party begins its non-stop attack — an attack that will not cease until November 2008.
Well, at least Laura is safe.