One piece of the answer seems clear. Whatever else they are doing, the Bushites seem to be trying to set things up so that if/when the completeness of their disaster in Iraq becomes undeniable even to those in the American electorate least willing to recognize it, SOMEONE ELSE WILL GET THE BLAME.
That seems to be part of their game in calling anyone who prefers realism to wishful thinking "defeatist." So long as they can maintain the fiction that "victory" is still possible, the Bushites can escape the consequences of having the millstone of their ignominious failure hung around their necks. As Paul Krugman writes of Bush's recently-announced escalation: it's "just another stalling tactic...[which] buys him another year or two to claim that we're making progress."
It's a version of Wily Coyote's not falling after he runs off the edge of the cliff until he looks down and sees there's nothing beneath him. Only in this case, it's the spectators --the American electorate-- whom the Bushites must keep from seeing that there's no footing below.
And it's like the game of Old Maid: if Bush can fool enough of the people into believing in the possibility of victory until the next president takes office, perhaps the Bushites figure, they can hand off the card of defeat into the next player's hand. Then they'll declare: "We were making progress toward victory, but that guy blew it."
Meanwhile, it would seem, John McCain --the man who's now fully demonstrated his willingness to sell his soul for the possibility of being the man to whom the presidency is handed off in 2009-- has been working on his own version of this pretense. In the wake of the Iraq Study Group report, which indicated that victory was not an option, McCain started talking up the idea of a "surge." Most likely, he thought Bush would be compelled to acknowledge his failure, and he was positioning himself to say to the deluded Bushite base: "If they'd only been tough and resolute as I recommended back at the end of 2006, we'd have won." Imagine his surprise when Bush, instead of acquiescing in the reality toward which Baker-Hamilton directed his attention, started moving toward McCain's surge. But McCain, unwilling to give up his dishonest ploy, simply adapted by escalating his surge into something larger and longer-lasting than he'd previously described, so he could still say, "If only they'd followed my advice."
The American right has a long and dark history of indulging in these "stab in the back" theories to avoid having to confront the realities of American fallibility, and the center of the American body politic has some susceptibility to such distortions of reality.
Meanwhile, the opponents to this ill-advised escalation --aware of the Bushites' phony game of "Who Lost Iraq?"-- are treading with trepidation. They know that whoever gets tarred with this disastrous defeat will themselves suffer a political disaster. As a result, according to Frank Rich (also writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES) the Democrats "are unlikely to take draconian action (cutting off funding) that would make them, rather than Mr. Bush, politically vulnerable to blame for losing Iraq."
It is essential that the opposition be aware of this political vulnerability, for as important as the Iraq war is, the defeat of the Bushite forces is still more important. If these forces can restore and maintain their power even after their present public faces leave office, the disasters they have given us in the past six years will surely be joined by still other disasters-- for America and for the world.
Thus it is essential also that the opposition not only be aware of the dangers of the Bushites' "Who Lost Iraq?" game, but be able to counter it effectively. How can this be done?
The first component of a counter-strategy is essentially defensive, and it is suggested by this additional passage from Krugman:
Mr. Bush calls his critics "irresponsible," saying that they don't have an alternative to his strategy. But they do: setting a timetable for withdrawal, so that we can cut our losses, and trying to save what can be saved. It isn't a strategy for victory because that's no longer an option. It's a strategy for acknowledging reality.
Acknowledging reality is a strategy for Iraq, but it can function as a strategy for the "Who Lost Iraq?" game only if the opposition can effectively get the American electorate to acknowledge that reality as well. The best defense against the Bushite propaganda deceptions is to bring in the best voices of reality to tell the American public what is and is not possible there now. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group provided some degree of this reality check. But it is important now for congressional hearings to bring military and regional experts --as untainted as possible by political connections and agendas-- to paint the reality that the Bushites wish to deny and that the American people need to recognize.
In addition, the opposition should seize every appropriate opportunity to point out the game the Bushites are playing-- and call them on the despicable way in which they squander American (not to mention Iraqi) lives and treasure for political advantage, which indeed they've done all along in this dishonest venture-- another reality to which good congressional hearings could call attention.
Enlisting the participation of prominent Republicans --Chuck Hagel is one prime candidate-- can help transform this issue into what it should be: not Democrat vs. Republican, but true patriots of both parties against the Bushite scoundrels.
A second component of the counter to the Bushite game could be offensive.
In addition to the "Who Lost Iraq?" game, the opposition should be raising additional questions. "Who Lost Russian Democracy?" would be a good one: the transition from Soviet communist dictatorship to Russian democracy was a huge achievement and, while the souring of that achievement began before the Bushite reign, and while the American responsibility for it is limited, the decline of Russian democracy accelerated greatly during Bush's first term, and went not only unresisted but unremarked by this terrible Bushite leadership. And the world has again become a more dangerous place on account of it.
Perhaps the games of "Who Lost What Had Been Achieved in Afghanistan?" and "Who Lost Our Budget Surplus?" and "Who Lost America's Reputation?" could be included in these political maneuverings to see just who it is that ends up with the Old Maid in their hand.
Doubtless there are other good strategies for defeating the Bushite "Who Lost Iraq?" ploy. It's worth our brainstorming to come up with them.