Regime Change in D.C.

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Be careful what you wish for. President George W. Bush and his close circle of neoconservatives wanted regime change … and they got it. Okay, it was not exactly what they wished for. Bush had hoped for regime change in parts of the greater Middle East. Instead, it came to Washington, DC. As expected, the Democratic Party won both Houses of Congress in last November’s mid-term elections, sweeping out the Republicans and gaining the majority in both chambers: the House and Senate.

This time, it’s not just the economy, stupid. It was the war in Iraq that clinched the victory for the Dems, and despite the best Washington spin machines, the outcome is nothing short of a censure of the Bush government and the Republican Party.

The Republicans’ defeat was the result of a growing number of Americans concerned by a failed policy in the Iraq war with no visible end in sight, a sagging economy and the government’s abuse of power in the fight against terrorism. The political shakeup in Congress can be taken as a demand by the American people for regime change … in Washington.

Interestingly, much of the disappointment in the administration’s performance came from once-ardent Bush supporters including … wait for it … the armed services.

Days before Election Day, a number of hard-line neoconservatives, including a one-time top Pentagon adviser and one of the main architects of the Iraq war, came out publicly against the way the US was conducting the war in Iraq, calling it a “disaster,” words echoed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair while touring Pakistan towards the end of November.

Timed to appear just before the elections, in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Richard Perle said if he had been able to see how the war would turn out, he probably would not have pushed for the removal of Saddam Hussein.

“I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, ‘Should we go into Iraq?,’ I think now I probably would have said, ‘No, let’s consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.’”

He added: “The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.” Responding to the magazine’s accusations, a White House spokesman said simply, “The president has a plan to succeed in Iraq.” (Interestingly enough, campaigning right up to Election Day, the president kept repeating the same line, that he had a “plan” for Iraq.)

But Bush loyalists, including Perle and other former White House insiders cited in VF, now claim they were quoted out of context and that the magazine was playing its own brand of politics in hoping to influence the elections. That may well be so, but the Army Times, the Navy Times, the Air Force Times, and the Marine Times also took up arms, firing their own withering editorial broadsides calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The day after the vote, they got their wish and Rumsfeld was handed his walking papers.

In the past, US military personnel have traditionally avoided criticizing their civilian leaders, regardless of how poor a job they might be doing. As these hugely influential military newspapers pointed out, finding out the truth about what was going on in Iraq had been, until recently, a mite tricky.

Despite their titles, the four military Times are not affiliated with the military but are published by Gannet, the same group that publishes USA Today. They are, however, widely read by those in uniform and likely played a part in convincing Bush to sack his secretary of Defense.

The papers accuse the White House and the Pentagon of offering a string of false statements. “One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: ‘Mission Accomplished,’ ‘the insurgency is in its last throes,’ and ‘back off, we know what we’re doing,’ were among the optimistic images the Bush administration tried to portray from a war that was going from bad to worse.”