Game definitely on. With Democrats assuming control of Congress, the pieces are in place for a struggle that could redefine American politics for a generation or longer.
Personally, I've always opposed impeaching President Bush. After the Republicans' ludicrous attempts to remove Bill Clinton, for Democrats to "normalize" the practice by appearing to retaliate in kind could only inflame partisanship, boosting TV and radio shoutfest ratings at the expense of weakening the Constitution. Although polls show slight majorities favoring impeachment, the votes just aren't there.
Even so, it's not hard to imagine how it could happen. Because to allow an arrogant, arguably delusional president and his shrinking band of ideologically driven aides to "double down" in Iraq, gambling "the lives and sacred honor" of American troops to save face in a misbegotten war would also do incalculable harm to the idea of self-government. To remove Bush, however, Republicans would have to take the lead.
As Bush is currently wrecking the GOP everywhere but the Deep South, that chances may not be as remote as they seem. The cult of personality surrounding the White House has broken down. Last November, American voters delivered as clear a verdict on Iraq as an off-year electorate can possibly render. No Democratic incumbent lost anywhere. Yet Bush acts as if it never happened.
For 3-1/2 years after the administration forced Gen. Eric Shinseki into retirement for testifying that a far larger force would be needed to occupy Iraq than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld planned, the White House insisted that the United States had precisely the right mix of soldiers in place, that victory was imminent, and that Bush never failed to heed his brilliant generals in Baghdad.
Only after Rummy got fired did we learn that he'd himself proposed "an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases" in Iraq in 2007. Instead, more than three years and 3000 American lives into the war, Bush dumped him and cashiered the brilliant generals, also apparently for opposing escalation.
He's chosen Gen. David Petraeus, the author of the Army's manual on counterinsurgency, to replace them. True, Petraeus's 101st Airborne troops did a better job pacifying the locals in Mosul in 2003 than other U.S. forces. But his second job there involved training the Iraqi army and police forces, an unqualified disaster.
Some conservatives argue desperately that a "surge" of 20,000 troops will save the situation. Writing in the Washington Post, former NATO Supreme Commander (and Democratic presidential candidate) Wesley Clark sets them straight: "We've never had enough troops in Iraq. In Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of 2 million. That ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops in Iraq; adding 20,000 now seems too little, too late. Further, U.S. troops so far have lacked the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas 'cleared' can be 'held.'"
The larger problem is the same one that confounded Gen. Patraeus's efforts to train Iraqi forces. As a nation, Iraq scarcely existed in 2003 when the United States invaded. Since then it's disintegrated into sheer, bloody chaos, with tribal and sectarian loyalties overwhelming all others. The transformation of Saddam Hussein's execution into a sectarian snuff film ought to teach Americans all they need to know about the government we've installed there.
Mere reality, however, has never made an impression on the Bush White House. What's more significant is that Gen. Clark, valedictorian of his West Point class, after all, no longer looks like a maverick. The president's political support is melting like the polar ice cap. And it's not merely pundits like the Washington Post's George Will and Charles Krauthammer and the New York Times' David Brooks who've pronounced themselves appalled. ABC News recently polled the members of the 2002 U.S. Senate that voted 77-23 to authorize Bush to use force in Iraq. Knowing what they know now, they'd oppose the war 57-43 — a 34-vote swing.
Writing in Human Events, right-wing icon Col. Oliver North argues, "sending more U.S. combat troops (to Iraq) is simply sending more targets." Recently back from Baghdad, North says contrary to Senators John McCain and Holy Joe Lieberman, "(n)ot one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen or Marines I interviewed told me that they wanted more U.S. boots on the ground. In fact, nearly all expressed just the opposite: 'We don't need more American troops, we need more Iraqi troops.'"
Even more ominous for Republicans not named Bush was a recent Military Times poll. Since 2004, active duty service members calling themselves Republicans dropped 14 percent (from 60% to 46%) seemingly in direct response to Iraq. Thirty-five percent think Bush has handled the war competently; 75% believe the military's dangerously overstressed.
Predicting the future is folly. History, however, teaches that when strong majorities of Americans want something, our political system usually finds a way to give it to them.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a national magazine award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at email@example.com.