By Brigitte L. Nacos
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes today that by sticking to his policy and staying the course on Iraq, “George W. Bush delivered his farewell address on Thursday evening — handing the baton, and probably the next election, to the Democrats.” He mentions David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, who has said, “In one fell swoop George Bush abdicated to [General] Petraeus, [Iraq’s Prime Minister] Maliki and the Democrats. Bush left it to Petraeus to handle the war, Maliki to handle our timetable and therefore our checkbook, and the Democrats to ultimately figure out how to end this.” With respect to making the Iraq War Petraeus’s war, retired General Wesley Clark writes perceptively, “shame on political leaders who would hide behind their top generals. It was hard not to catch a whiff of that during last week's hearings. The Constitution, however, is not ambivalent about where the responsibility for command lies -- the president is the commander in chief.” But it is with respect to “handing the baton” to the Democrats that Friedman raises the most interesting questions: “While Mr. Bush’s tacit resignation last week greatly increases the odds of a Democratic victory in 2008, there are several wild cards that could change things: a miraculous turnaround in Iraq (unlikely, but you can always hope), a terrorist attack in America, a coup in Pakistan that puts loose nukes in the hands of Islamist radicals, or a recession induced by the meltdown in the U.S. mortgage market, which as forces a stark choice between bailing out Baghdad or Chicago.”
Mr. Friedman’s inclusion of “a terrorist attack in America” in his list of events or developments likely to decrease the odds of Democrats winning the White House next year is not far-fetched. After all, since the 444-day long Iran Hostage Crisis (1970-81) Republicans have managed to convince the majority of Americans most of the time that Democrats are soft on terrorism and defense. The current occupants of the White House, especially Vice-President Cheney and his advisers, and their ideological brethrens in the Congress and elsewhere have been tireless in magnifying this perception—regardless of reality that the more and more lethal incidents of terrorism against U.S. targets occurred under Republican presidents.