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White House Chess

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by Stephen P. Pizzo

The Washington media spent the holidays trying to guess what the President's new plan for Iraq might be. Meanwhile in the back rooms of the White House Karl Rove and White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten were doing what any world-class chess player does when facing defeat ‐ plot a series of aggressive moves to throw their opponent off balance in the hopes of regaining the initiative.

How do I know this? Well, since God only talks to Rev. Pat Robertson – and, when He can't get through to Pat, George W. Bush – I didn't get it from Him. No it came to me in this news flash late yesterday:

Washington, D.C. - As President Bush prepares a new statement and stance on the war in Iraq, his cabinet is once again in the midst of transition. In the latest change, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte will resign to become deputy secretary of state, according to a government official...

The shift, while seemingly abrupt, will allow Negroponte to return to his former career path as a diplomat. Negroponte will serve under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It was that last line that gives away the strategy. “Negroponte will serve under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”
Never! Negroponte quits as head of one of the most important and powerful posts in government, a job that puts him face to face with the President of the United States every morning, of everyday of the week, to accept a position as Rice's assistant?

Fat chance.

So what's up? Here's what I think is up ‐ and if I were Bush I would be itching to get on with the game.

Move 1: Announce what the administration knows will be a very unpopular decision to send more troops to Iraq.

Move 2: Let the Democrat-controlled Congress throw a fit and hold hearings, that the administration knows will stir up additional opposition and shake loose new damning information on the administrations march to war and mismanagement of that war.

Move 3: Just when all the above is hitting the fan, Dick Cheney announces he is retiring from office early due to “health concerns," and because he does not want to be "a distraction" when he is called to testify in purjury trial of his former No. 2. Scooter Libby.

Move 4: The next day Bush announces he will nominate Condoleezza Rice to replace Cheney.

Move 5: At the same time Bush announces he is nominating Negroponte to replace Rice as Secretary of State.

The above series of moves makes political sense on so many levels that I consider it inevitable. Think about it:

For Cheney: By all reports, Cheney has been sidelined within the administration. No longer being a major player – actually the major player ‐ is so NOT Dick Cheney. If he can't run the show, he's not interested. Also, leaving before the end of Bush's final term would put some daylight between Cheney and the shoddy Bush legacy ‐ not a lot of daylight, but a lot more than if Cheney stays until January 2009.

For Bush: Appointing the first woman and the first African American to the vice presidency, Bush knows, would put him in the history books for something besides the mess his war has made out of the Middle East. By appointing Rice VP he would lock in for all history his place as the first US President to have a female and black as his No. 2 ‐ an historical “two-fer.”

For Rice: As an academic by vocation Rice knows better than Bush how historians rank the achievements – and failures ‐ of public figures. If appointed VP she would no longer go down in history as simply the White House National Security Advisor who signed off on Bush's fictional Iraqi WMD. Instead her bio would lead with the fact that she became America's first woman and first black to hold this high office. So, whether Rice leaves government service in 2009, or decides to run for President, departing as a sitting Vice President would be an asset of immeasurable value.

For Negroponte: This man is the quintessential Machiavellian. His entire career has been spent working towards becoming Secretary of State:

Ambassador to Honduras (1981 - 1985)
Ambassador to the UN (2001 - 2004)
Ambassador to Iraq (2004 - 2005)

And, at this point in his long career he sure as hell isn't interested in serving as someone else's No. 2. Negroponte's appointment as the first Director of National Intelligence was an aberration in a career otherwise entirely dedicated to diplomacy. Being appointed Secretary of State would be his crowning moment. Though he'd hold the job for just two years, it promises to be a very eventful two years. And, when he leaves office, for the rest of his life, and even in death, he will be “Mr. Secretary.”

But wait – there's more. There are also huge macro-political benefits that would accrue to the administration from this series of chess moves.
  • First, when the public turns against an administration, as it has against this one, there's nothing like a high-profile personnel shake up to kindle hope – false or otherwise.
  • Cheney's departure would be met by an enormous sigh of relief by all but a handful of die-hard neocons and brain-dead Red State voters.
  • Negorponte's long career as a diplomat would also be a relief since, for the first time since Bush took office an actually diplomat is in charge at State – a guy who knows how to wheel and deal with other wheeler-dealers – a guy who, instead of shooting first and talking later, actually prefers to talk first.
  • The appointment of Rice to VP would give the GOP bragging rights in 2008, inevitably sapping some number of African American and women voters away from Democrats to the GOP.
  • Finally, Cheney's history of heart trouble may have been a risk worth taking when an untimely departure had Dennis Hassert two heart beats away from the Presidency, but not now that it's Democrat Nancy Pelosi. A VP with a good ticker is now a must.

Now let's look back at Move 1, because it's the key to all that would follow.

An audio tape of Lyndon Johnson speaking to aides in the Oval Office in early 1966 has Johnson admitting that the Vietnam war was unwinnable and that he'd love to figure how to get out. But, he quickly added that there would be no American military defeat on his watch.

A look at the casualties on the day of that early 1966 conversation is instructive; the US had lost just a over 3000 troops in Vietnam. But, instead of ending a war he knew could not be won, Johnson “surged.” (Actually they used the right term in those days, “escalation.”)

In that same conversation Johnson worried out loud that, "if Congress knew what I know, they'd cut off funding," for the war.

By the end of 1966 killed in action casualties were over 5000. The next year over 14,000 more died. Ten years after that conversaton 57,000 additional US soldiers were dead, and it was left to Gerald Ford to accept reality and bring all remaining US troops home.

Bush, like Johnson, now knows he can't “win” in Iraq. But, like Johnson, Bush is ready to sacrifice more American soldiers to insure history does not record a US military defeat on his watch. Which is why, like Johnson and then Nixon after him ‐ Bush will buy time by escalating – (or a “surging,” as he prefers to call it.)

Lyndon Johnson was in his first elected term and could have run for reelection. Instead he decided to bail out and leave the mess in Vietnam to his successors. Bush, in his second term, can't run again any that makes his task a bit more dicy than Johnson's. Bush needs to buy time ‐ 24 months to be precise ‐ in order to pass the burn onto his successor.

But simply escalating by sending more troops won't guarantee him that extra time. Congress is no longer in GOP hands, so there are uncertainties. Bush knows he is going to be under intense political fire to get out of Iraq before he leaves office. And, as a former fighter jet pilot, Bush knows how to divert fire by dispensing chaff. And what better chaff than tossing Dick Cheney to waiting sharks, annoiting Condoleezza Rice Vice President and putting Negroponte, a career diplomat and consummate inside player, at the helm of State.

All this is just a guess, mind you. But keep a keen eye on the players on the board, because checkmate is still avoidable. The strategy begins with that first move – pushing more pawns – US soldiers – into harms way. Then sacrificing the Queen to relief pressure on the King. Finally moving the Rook into a blocking position.

In chess it's called “Castling” And it's all about protecting the King when all else has failed.

In this administration it's called, the politics of distraction. And it's worked remarkably well for them up to this point.

This just in...

Bush quietly authorizes opening of Americans' mail

WASHINGTON - President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the New York Daily News has learned.The president asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

(Full Story)


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