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Richard Klass Headshot

The One Term President Conspiracy

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Karl Rove may have left the White House but his evil spirit remains. The domestic objective of President Bush's strategy in Iraq is to ensure that the next president -- presumably a Democrat -- is a one-term president.

Unless Congress acts, significant U.S. forces are likely to remain for "3-5 years according to a reputable study done by many members of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. Three to five years, you mean until the 2010 mid-term elections or the 2012 presidential election? You mean that at least the first half of the new president's term will be consumed by Iraq, probably the whole term.

The new president would thus face continued rancor in Congress and the country and continued gridlock that would probably prevent compromise on immigration or other issues important to the American people. He or she would face a budget situation where the war would eat up any resources that she or he would want to spend on health care, education or infrastructure. In short, the next president's term could look at lot like President Bush's second term.

On the international scene, the new president would have difficulty reversing the decline in respect for the United States. To be sure, Guantanamo could be closed and torture and rendition policies changed. And perhaps a serious effort to move the Israel-Palestine conflict toward resolution might bear fruit. Certainly a more progressive policy on global climate change will restore a modicum of respect. But the essential element for the needed dialogue with our allies and enemies, a restoration of U. S. moral authority, will be tarnished by our continued presence in Iraq. And if domestic deadlock lowers the president's poll rating, his or her standing in the world will diminish along with any ability to get things done.

The new president may also be called to deal with other holes President Bush has dug. The mounting U.S. international debt, especially the dependence on China, could threaten a recession. How long after they have their moment of glory in the Olympic Games next summer will the Chinese government continue to unquestionably purchase treasury bonds at low interest rates? How will the next president deal with the Medicare funding issue?

But the core of the problem is Iraq. The Patrraeus-Bush plan is to keep as many troops in Iraq as long as possible until the next president takes over. The surge troops will of necessity not choice begin leaving in April when their 15 month tours end. The last surge brigade that arrived in May will leave by August. The force will then be down to the pre-surge level and can be maintained there through the election. The new president will inherit a force without a strategy either for success or redeployment.

It will take several months to get a new national security team on board and do the planning and consultation with the Joint Chiefs. At best a safe redeployment can begin in the summer of 2009 and conclude in late 2010 -- coincident with the mid-term elections. If things go badly -- which they are almost certain to do given the bequeathed quagmire -- the Republicans will blame the Democrats for losing Iraq. If they go well, the Republicans will take credit. And the new president will face the prospect of being a one-term president given all the other bequeathed constraints and problems.

Are President Bush and the ghost of Karl Rove consciously setting up the new president to fail? The record would suggest that the answer is "yes." Is there a way out of this blind canyon? The best way is for Congress to force an earlier start and quicker pace to the redeployment. But the votes do not yet seem there for such an action in the 2008 defense authorization or appropriation bills or the pending supplemental request. Something more hard ball needs to be considered. The Bush administration reportedly plans to submit yet another supplemental for Iraq in October, probably on the order of $50 billion.

Congress should put the administration on notice now that the new supplemental request and all future supplemental requests for Iraq will be subject to "pay-go" rules. The administration may propose but congress will impose how the "pay go" rules are met. The first place to look is in Pentagon procurement accounts for weapons systems not needed now for Iraq or the wider war on terror. After that, congress should turn to rolling back tax cuts on the wealthy and correcting current inequalities such as tax rates on hedge fund managers.

If Republicans block "pay go" cuts or the President vetoes them, congress should keep working the supplemental package until he does or the bill dies. It is time for some backbone and the American people will understand that we cannot keep putting the costs of this war on the credit card, especially when they understand that the entire cost of this war has thus been funded so far.