Karl's New War

10/24/2005 05:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Imagine you’re Karl Rove. You’ve got a possible indictment hanging over your head, and the head of the Veep’s main guy, Scooter Libby, in the CIA agent name leak case. Your Capitol Hill roach-stomper, Tom DeLay, just had his mugshot taken following an indictment for laundering of campaign contributions from corporations. Your White House head of procurement, David Safavian, was recently taken away in handcuffs, accused of lying about government dealings with his old friend the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, another insider being investigated for, well, just about everything.

Oh—and you’ve got a boss with plummeting popularity ratings, and troublesome prospects in next year’s midterm congressional elections.

Whew! So being as you’re Karl Rove, you do what Karl is always inclined to do in these situations: create a distraction. A big one. Big enough to suck the metaphorical wind out of the press room.

What’s big enough to compete with such odoriferously spectacular sleaze news? Not much. Except maybe another war. In other words, Wag the Dog.Last Friday, I got a CNN “Breaking News” e-mail: President Bush calls for United Nations to convene after "deeply disturbing" report implicates Syrian officials in assassination.

Of course it’s deeply disturbing that Syria’s leadership should be behind the bomb that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But it’s hardly surprising, since Syria has for decades meddled in Lebanese politics, occupied the country, probably had a hand in past assassinations in a country where such things are all too common. It was more or less a given that Syria was behind the assassination, with help from Lebanese insiders. The report simply confirmed those suspicions.

But Bush’s UN call is not without specific purpose. In fact, it’s likely part of a two-pronged argument that we’re about to hear: Syria is destabilizing the region at a crucial time, and providing safe haven to terrorists on their way into Iraq. Them’s fighting words, and before long, the media will be convulsed with a debate over yet another possible invasion. (And if you prefer threesomes, to Iraq and Syria, add Iran, about which we’re hearing more tough talk.)

It is highly doubtful that such an invasion will take place, especially given how stretched US military resources are, but it’s a sure bet that this represents the launching of a major political offensive.

That is, get everyone whipped up about the pros and cons of another invasion, including, especially, the costs, in dollars and lives. And, about the goals and appropriateness of the action. Almost by definition, news organizations must always place military issues and possible hostilities ahead of other matters. And the reality is that wars play better: it’s just too darned hard to explain to the public the intricacies of corruption cases – unless the corruption involves something we all get, like a blue dress that needs dry cleaning. Plus, resources, space and time are limited. So all of these creeping –gates, PlameGate, LobbyistGate, DonorGate, etc, can momentarily be shunted away to the inside pages where only the most hardy pay attention to them.

To be sure, an actual arrest and prosecution of someone of Rove’s ‘stature’ would lead the news. But don’t bet on it remaining the topic of conversation once a clarion call is sounded for America to again do its thing for global security. You and I may love to speculate about Scooter, and Karl, and their comrades, but the reality in middle America is far different. Last year, on a flight to Texas, I chatted with my seatmate, a seemingly well-informed software salesman, reasonably affluent, college-educated, moderate, who volunteered that he increasingly didn’t trust Bush. He saw me clutching a copy of the book, “Bush’s Brain,” about Rove. “Who,” he asked, “is that?”

If he and most Americans barely knew who Rove was then, imagine their interest in his fate, and those of even lesser visibility, as the drums of war sound again.

Russ Baker’s website is