According to a new book, Senator Hillary Clinton and other Democrats have a behind-the-scenes political advisor on the war.
His name is President George Bush:
President Bush is quietly providing back-channel advice to Hillary Rodham Clinton, urging her to modulate her rhetoric so she can effectively prosecute the war in Iraq if elected president.
In an interview for the new book â€œThe Evangelical President,â€ White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said Bush has â€œbeen urging candidates: â€˜Donâ€™t get yourself too locked in where you stand right now. If you end up sitting where I sit, things could change dramatically.â€™”
Bolten said Bush wants enough continuity in his Iraq policy that â€œeven a Democratic president would be in a position to sustain a legitimate presence there.â€
â€œEspecially if itâ€™s a Democrat,â€ the chief of staff told The Examiner in his West Wing office. â€œHe wants to create the conditions where a Democrat not only will have the leeway, but the obligation to see it out.â€
What is NOT new is that Presidential candidates of one party are being given briefings on vital issues by a White House of another party.
What IS news — if this report is correct — is that Bush is working to try to create continuity between his administration and Clinton and others to try to get them to tone down their anti-war rhetoric. And there’s more:
To that end, Bush is institutionalizing controversial anti-terror programs so they can be used by the next president.
â€œLook, Iâ€™d like to make as many hard decisions as I can make, and do a lot of the heavy lifting prior to whoever my successor is,â€ Bush said. â€œAnd then that person is going to have to come and look at the same data Iâ€™ve been looking at, and come to their own conclusion.â€
As an example, Bush cited his detainee program, which allows him to keep enemy combatants imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay while they await adjudication. Bush is unmoved by endless criticism of the program because he says his successor will need it.
â€œI specifically talked about it so that a candidate and/or president wouldnâ€™t have to deal with the issue,â€ he said. â€œThe next person has got the opportunity to analyze the utility of the program and make his or her decision about whether or not it is necessary to protect the homeland. I suspect theyâ€™ll find that it is necessary. But my only point to you is that it was important for me to lay it out there, so that the politics wouldnâ€™t enter into whether or not the program ought to survive beyond my period.â€
The interview says Bush understands that a lot of them might not take his advice or want to show they’re taking it in an election year. But the newspaper goes on to portray a President and advisers who seem fully confident not much will substantially change if a Democrat wins in 2008:
So far, Bush has been encouraged by the fact that Democratic candidates are preserving enough wiggle room in their anti-war rhetoric to enable them to keep at least some troops in Iraq.
â€œIf you listen carefully, there are Democrats that say, â€˜Well, there needs to be some kind of presence,â€™â€ Bush said.
A senior White House official said the administration did not put much stock in pledges by Democratic presidential candidates to swiftly end the Iraq war if elected.
â€œWell, first of all, if youâ€™re a presidential candidate,â€ the official said, â€œyouâ€™re able to [finesse] the public posturing that you may be required to do, or that you fall into doing.
â€œThe other thing is, they are being advised by smart people,â€ the official said. â€œWeâ€™ve got colleagues here on the staff who have good communications with some of the thinkers on that side.
â€œAnd there is a recognition by most of them that there has to be a long-term presence by the United States if we hope to avoid America being brought back into the region in a very precarious way, at a point where all-out resources are required.â€
The “White House official” (who is probably Cheney since he’s quoted in the same story with a somewhat bland quote) also talks about the Democrats’ dilemma:
Besides, he said, Democrats understand the negative consequences of moving too quickly to reverse Bushâ€™s Iraq policy. The official noted that in the wake of Vietnam, anti-war Democrats â€œsuffered for 20-some-odd years because they were identified as the party, when it came to national security, of being weak.â€
â€œIf I were a Democrat, I would not want to be in a place where I was forcing us to withdraw in â€™08,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s an election year and any bad consequences would immediately be on their head.
â€œOne of two things will happen if a Democrat gets elected president,â€ he said. â€œThey will either have to withdraw U.S. troops in order to remain true to the rhetoric â€” in which case, any consequences in the aftermath fall on their heads. Or they have to break their word, in which case they encourage fratricide on the left of their party. Now thatâ€™s a thorny issue to work through.
Cheney’s bland quote ends the story (as a former reporter, if I guessed I would put money on the source above being Cheney).
What does this mean?
1. Apart from pro forma briefings, the White House is trying to direct Democratic candidates’ perceptions and help transfer its perceptions to the Democrats. It’s an attempt to create continuity of viewpoint.
2. It underscores how the White House believes it is acting now from a position of strength due to the Democrats’ disarray and political dilemma — which is not a dilemma to many progressives who argue the party should simply break totally with existing policy and stop compromising with the administration on war issues. Bush & Co are trying to put the pieces in place for a tacit continuation of policy.
3. The story says Democrats are pleased with the briefings, which is probably true. Candidates value the info they get on major issues.
4. The cautionary note is the motive of these tidbits of information. The most Machiavellian one would be that this is a way for the White House to sow division between Democrats and the seemingly flaying anti-war party base, because if Democrats are busy fighting each other and gobbling each other up (trying to defeat other Democrats who aren’t considered loyal on all issues) it will a) help the GOP and b) weaken the energy and unity Democrats need in their anti-war legislative and political efforts.
However, since this story does not single out one candidate (such as Clinton) to be the one talking to the White House and the importance of toning down anti-war rhetoric (conjuring up images of wide-eyed Democratic candidates nodding their heads as the are enlightened by Bush and his aides on the way to talk about the war) it’s likely not to create problems for any one candidate.
But, depending on how much play it gets, Democratic candidates may soon be issuing clarifications that they’re not toning down their stance on the war due to their unofficial war rhetoric adviser in the White House. In fact, the article may cause some candidates to talk tougher.
So this story can be accurate or have a political motive.
If so, it would not be the first time a reporter (or blogger) has been used for political purposes with information that has been pitchforked into the headlines via an exclusive interview. News sources usually open themselves up for a reason.