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President Bush Can Still Sink the Democrats

By Jed Babbin

Now the clock has begun to run on Nancy Pelosi's first 100 hours as Speaker. She'll find them very short. Despite the disdain for George W. Bush's political skill, he has remade the political landscape into a rough road for the Dems. They can't openly advocate cutting and running from Iraq: they're taking cover under the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report. Worse still for the liberals, George Bush has made it possible to debate seriously everything from Social Security to private options in education and health. But it's not easy for Republicans either. They have to exorcise the ghosts of surrenders past or they will end up caving in on key issues and allow the Dems to consolidate control of Congress and move on to capture the White House in 2008.

Congressional Republicans have to choose among three paths. They can go along with the Democrats and try to claim partial credit for whatever liberal horribles the Dems pass. They can obstruct (and often succeed) but probably won't for fear of the 527 Media. Or they can join with the president to push hard for their own domestic agenda while the president's time is dominated by war.

The president is readying his new Iraq strategy for probable presentation in an Oval Office speech next week. It is almost certain that he will reject the Baker-Hamilton ISG recommendation to negotiate with Iran and Syria. The timing is ironic, because the linkage between the ISG report and past Republican domestic surrenders is in the people who engineered those past and are recommending those to come. Americans understand better than most of our gray eminences that negotiating with Iran and Syria can have only one result: the surrender of Iraq to our enemies, and a strategic defeat in the larger war. Baker is pushing the same preemptive surrender strategy that failed to defeat Reagan and did sink Bush 41.

Baker has been on the wrong side of history with an horrendous consistency. As White House Chief of Staff he (and another Reagan assistant, Richard Darman) leaked a series of stories to the media intended to rally Congressional support for tax hikes, but all for naught: Ronald Reagan didn't budge. Then George H.W. Bush was elected on the promise of no new taxes. Baker and Darman - then Secretary of State and OMB Director -- still thought that victory was ensured by surrender. They achieved a White House consensus to raise taxes. Bush 41 did, and it cost him the presidency.

Baker's surrender strategy was - and is -- also the core of his foreign policy theory. He, like many of his background and age, are stability addicts. To gain stability - on domestic or foreign fronts - he's willing to trade more than it is worth. Trying to prop up Gorbachev, Baker opposed American support for Balkan freedom, nearly getting into a fistfight with fellow cabinet member Jack Kemp over it. Now, when the Iranian mullahs are beset by falling oil production and growing internal unrest, Baker wants to make it harder for Iranians to overthrow the mullahs just like he wanted to make it harder for Latvia and Lithuania to shake off the shackles of the Soviets. President Bush and congressional Republicans should remember that pre-emptive surrender - at home or abroad - produces defeat, not victories. And it doesn't "position" you for anything other than more of the same.

For the White House Iraq overshadows everything, and will continue to until the end of the Bush 43 presidency. But it will not be that all-encompassing to Congress because the only major role Congress can play in the conduct of a war is to cut funding and try to thwart its prosecution. Though many of them want to, the Dems don't dare try. Their hands are tied. If Congressional Republicans were to base their strategy on that fact, they and the president could corner the Democrats and set them up for defeat in 2008.

Republican congressional leaders - Sens. Mitch McConnell and Trent Lott, Reps. John Boehner and Roy Blunt - should hold a series of meetings with the president with two goals. First, they must exorcise the political ghosts that now haunt the president. Congressional leaders need to tell the president that what he's hearing about retreat and compromise is just more half-Bakered baloney. President Bush is, by nature, a fighter. But he's in Round 8 of a 10-rounder and may be a little tired. GOP leaders need to help fire him up. Second, Bush and the GOP leaders must know that the Dems will declare anything proposed in the State of the Union address to be dead on arrival. The smarter Republican leaders such as McConnell will realize that six months from now, the Dems will have accomplished little, and will be ready with their own agenda.

Let's be clear: we know that having government run health care, retirement and education doesn't work, and if anything is to be done about that the president has to be in our faces about it. Congressional Republicans should push him to return to his rhetoric of relieving the burden on future generations. They should ask him to return to demanding reform of the government entitlement triangle. Of course there will be a huge uproar. But this golden egg will hatch in 2008 when younger voters want to reject the stranglehold of big government, which is all the Dems have to offer.

Dems won't make Bush's hugely successful tax cuts permanent, but why shouldn't Republicans push for permanence anyway? Moreover, George W. Bush has made fair game of the entitlement programs that are the heart of the federal deficit. If he and other GOP leaders can assure those dependent on those programs that they won't be affected, but reform those programs to be financially sound in the foreseeable future, the Dems will sink.

The predicate for all this will be the new Iraq strategy. The Dems may be reeling when next week's speech is over.

The president's new strategy will, almost certainly, reject the Baker-Hamilton preemptive surrender idea. Bush is, for better and for worse, a stubborn man who has never accepted the idea of defeat in Iraq. It's not enough to say we will pursue victory in Iraq. If he says - in as clear and compelling terms as his post 9-11 "you're either with us, or with the terrorists" speech - that the war in Iraq is a regional war that has to be won, not surrendered as the Baker-Hamilton gang proposed, he can put us on the path to a clear and understandable victory.

President Bush can point to the fact that the 527 Media isn't even reporting on new polls that show that support for terrorism among Middle Eastern people has collapsed. And he should say, again, that we are safer here because we are fighting terrorists where they live, not where we live. He can, and should, say that Iraq's neighbors must immediately cease their interference in Iraq and their sponsorship of global terrorism. He should announce that our national policy is for regime change in Iran, that we will help Iranians establish a government in exile and support those in Iran who demand freedom from the mullahs' oppression.

George Bush can, in his last two years, put us on the path to victory abroad and his party on the path to winning in 2008. He can diminish the cynicism and distrust Americans feel toward their government. Despite the media's narrative to the contrary, Americans like George Bush and want to trust him. Taking decisive steps toward winning the war against terrorist nations and refusing to surrender to liberals in Congress could be the good beginnings of a great end to his presidency.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a contributing editor to The American Spectator and author of Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States (with Edward Timperlake, Regnery 2006) and Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think (Regnery 2004).

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