A Town Without Pity

One of the conclusions that Harry Truman reached after spending several decades in the U.S. capital, first as a lawmaker and then as a vice-president who inherited the White House following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was: "If you want to have a friend in Washington, buy a dog."

Even during Mr. Truman’s time, in the middle of the 20th century, long before the rise of investigative journalism, the launching of the 24/7 cable news programs, and the appointment of special prosecutors to look after crimes in high places, Washington was already known for its brutal political arena and mean social environment.

Friendships here are not unconditional, and if you’re down and out, well, don’t expect the guy who only yesterday gave you a high-five to return your e-mail, not to mention invite you to a dinner party.

Which is why I hope that Karl Rove, who, when this piece was written, was still serving as President George W. Bush’s chief political adviser, does have a dog. He will probably need it in the coming days and weeks as special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald wraps up his inquiry into the alleged disclosure of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer’s identity.

According to a report on CNN, the investigation "has taken a toll on White House aides," many of whom now fear that the special counsel, Mr. Fitzgerald, "is intent on issuing indictments." One White House adviser told CNN that "Fitzgerald’s office, although very professional, has been very aggressive in pursuing people," adding that "these guys are bullies, and they threaten you." And according to most political "insiders," Mr. Rove has become a major target for Mr. Fitzgerald’s probe and could end up being indicted by him.

Indeed, last Friday, Mr. Rove, whose official title is the White House’s "deputy chief of staff for policy and special adviser," was forced to testify for the fourth time before the grand jury investigating the case. It centers on whether Bush administration officials illegally disclosed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame as part of a scheme to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson, a critic of the way the administration had used pre-intelligence about Iraq’s weapons program to justify an invasion of that country.

If Mr. Rove is indicted, he will probably resign from the White House to fight the charges against him. If that happens, one wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Rove, one of Washington’s leading political celebrities, who has been portrayed by the media as a "Boy Genius" and as "Bush’s Brain," would suddenly be depicted in the press as the city’s chief villain.

The King will be pronounced dead and his name will be wiped off all the important invitation lists in Washington. "Rove who? You mean the guy who is now on trial? Oh, that Rove."

Not that I share any sense of pity for Mr. Rove who, after all, has been the instigator of nasty political tricks against the rivals of his many clients, including Mr. Bush. One recalls the "rumors" spread during the 2000 Republican presidential primaries that then-candidate John McCain had fathered "black kids," or the bashing of Democratic presidential candidate and Vietnam War veteran John Kerry as "unpatriotic" during the 2004 presidential race. Nevertheless, the guy has a nice family and a wife and kids to support, so I hope he doesn’t get rolled over by the American justice system, which can be very expensive (for the U.S. taxpayer, that is).

In fact, considering the rising anti-Bush climate in Washington and around the country these days, Mr. Rove’s client in the White House may soon find out that without his "Brain" by his side at the Oval Office, he will only be able to count on his pet dog Barney for friendship and support.

Indeed, with the latest polls indicating that only 2 percent of African-Americans approve of Mr. Bush’s performance, and at a time when even Christian evangelicals who are angry at Mr. Bush’s nomination of his personal lawyer, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court are deserting him, Barney could turn out to be one of the president’s last political fans.

And it wasn’t long ago – in the aftermath of 9/11; during the "Shock and Awe" bombing of Baghdad and Mr. Bush’s (in)famous "Mission Accomplished" address; after the 2004 presidential election victory; at the time of the January election in Iraq and the many other we-are-turning-the-corner media events in Mesopotamia – that Mr. Bush was embraced by Republican lawmakers and conservative intellectuals, neo and not-so-neo. He was The Man, the Gunslinging Cowboy, hailed by them as the Victorious War President, compared to Britain’s Winston Churchill, the two Roosevelts, Kennedy, and Reagan, the historic figure who was expected to spread freedom across the universe and beyond and set the process of political realignment in American politics that would even bring African-Americans and Hispanics into the Republican Party.

It’s not only the 98 percent of African-Americans who have given up on Mr. Bush that should worry him, it’s the fact that many of his staunchest supporters in the Christian Right movement and among the ranks of neoconservative foreign policy ideologues are now abandoning him.

The cultural conservatives have rejected Mr. Bush’s call to trust him over the nomination of Ms. Miers to the Supreme Court. Indeed, they don’t seem to trust him at all and are bashing the White House for choosing an a “crony” and an “unqualified” nominee for the highest judicial office in the U.S. (as though Condoleezza Rice wasn’t a crony and unqualified for the position of America’s top diplomat).

And the neocons who were once upon a time united as a powerful intellectual force behind Mr. Bush are starting to split like an amoeba. Not unlike the old socialists, they are dividing into many sub-sects, each with its own little think tank, foreign policy magazine, and new brand name. They have all become the neo-neocons.

One of these neo-neocons is Francis Fukuyama, who, since 1991, has been calling on Washington to finish the job in Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein from office. Now that Mr. Bush has done just that, and things don’t look so great in the Broader Middle East, Mr. Fukuyama and other neo-neocons are explaining that the mess in Iraq that resulted from the U.S.-led regime change there should be blamed on the "incompetence" of the Pentagon, the lack of effective presidential "leadership," a bungled process of "nation-building," and a failure to use "public diplomacy" to "get the message across."

Hey, the Iraq script Fukuyama and the other neocons had written was great and was bound to win an Oscar if it hadn’t been for the amateurish director and the inept producers in the White House. So they are looking now for new producers to implement their National Greatness and American Hegemony scripts. Is John McCain or Rudy Giuliani available for the job? Someone needs a new sugar daddy.

So perhaps all the criticisms and cries about policy and principles mask the efforts by Republicans and neocons to prepare for the post-Bush era. Is it possible that both the evangelical Christian activists and the architects of the war in Iraq are reading the public opinion polls – in which Mr. Bush continues to slip to the bottom as the American people become more and more critical of his handling of Iraq and Hurricane Katrina – and are more and more dismayed over the cronyism and corruption in his administration?

And have all those who were regarded as allies and friends of Mr. Bush decided that they don’t want to tie their political fortunes to a failed presidency? Sorry if this sounds a bit harsh and cynical. But this is Washington. Where is the dog whistle? "Barney, Barney, where are you?"

Copyright © 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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