In a little noticed talk this past summer at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Rove predicted that Iraq is "likely not to be the dominant issue" next year, largely because he thinks the Democratic nominee may well want to tone down the issue next year.
"You don't want to to be in a place where on January 21, if you're a Democrat and you get elected, you face one of two options," Rove said, according to a transcript on the Aspen Institute website.
You bring them home precipitously and everybody, virtually everybody, agrees the country descends to chaos, and that's on your watch. Or...you keep them there in a reasonable configuration, redeployed, and in which case a large part of your party is angry with you."
Of course Rove makes this argument! Just like when he said the GOP's downfall in 2006 had to do with corruption, he has a vested interest in making people believe Iraq won't be a salient issue in next year's elections because if it is, it'll further illustrate how bad his political "strategery" for the GOP was and is.
Unfortunately, Rove isn't the only idiot with an agenda out there.
In an interview posted last week on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations, of which he is now president, Haass argues that while Iraq will certainly form a backdrop to the presidential campaign, it will lose some salience as as issue next year. His basic logic: Bush has co-opted the "bring the troops home" argument with his plan to pull five combat brigades out of Iraq by next summer. While Democrats complain that will only bring troop levels down to "pre-surge" levels, Haass is suggesting, most Americans won't really care now that the trajectory is downwards.
"Even a lot of the Democrats who opposed the policy aren't calling for total withdrawal. If you deconstruct their position, a lot of them are talking about residual forces in certain places for certain missions," Haass said. "So essentially now we are talking about the pace of drawdown and the size and the role of the residual force. That to me is an "inside-the-Beltway" debate."
Just like Rove underestimates how much public opinion has turned on this war in general, Haas apparently hasn't seen the polls that show Americans weren't swayed by the Petraeus speech and think Bush's ordered troop withdrawals to be too little, too late and in no way related to "progress in Iraq." People aren't so stupid they can't recognize the difference between the type of drawdown and residual forces Democrats talk about and the 10-year-plus commitment President Bush is trying to force on the country.
And as Democrats ramp up the campaign ads, they'll understand how Republicans in Congress have continually blocked legislation to bring the troops home or even give them as much time at home as on the battlefield, no matter what their rhetoric might be on changing policy. The only way Iraq becomes less of a campaign issue is if Democrats just decided not to push for change anymore, and I don't see them doing that anytime soon.
Furthermore, it is far more likely the situation in Iraq is likely to get worse over the next year than better. So I don't see how the GOP can seriously delude themselves about this. As long as the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of American families keep coming home in body bags in this mess of a war, I can goddamn guarantee it'll be a major issue in the coming election.