His favorability ratings in the U.S. are lower than they've ever been, and our closest allies, the British, think he poses a greater danger to world peace than either President Kim Jong Il of North Korea or President Mamoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. His party has lost its congressional majority, the Iraq Study Group declared his Iraq policies a failure and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are reported to unanimously oppose his plan for a "surge" of U.S. troops in Iraq. Rummy's gone, the tabloids have claimed that Laura's filing for divorce, and some say that even Barney the dog no longer wants to talk to him.
George W. Bush has a problem, and it's called Iraq, the country that just won't go away. There's no satisfying way to solve this problem either. Withdraw? No good: too humiliating. Stay the course? More dead Americans and more dead Iraqis. Surge? We don't have enough troops, and we don't have a strategy for using them anyway.
So what's a president to do?
W should take heart. This is hardly the first time his administration has faced seemingly intractable problems — and in the past, he's always been able to make those problems disappear.
The investigative reporting blog TPMmuckraker.com offers an excellent list of examples, compiled with the help of countless little blogospheric elves.
For instance, there was this. Problem: In 2005, a congressionally mandated annual State Department report on international terrorism showed that terrorism worldwide was on the rise. Solution: The administration announced that future editions of the report no longer would include statistics on international terrorism. See? Presto! Just like that, the problem went away.
And then there was this. Problem: In 2004, data released by the Department of Education showed that public charter schools, promoted by the administration as a solution to public school woes, were lagging regular public schools in performance. Solution: The administration decided to stop collecting data on charter school performance.
And this. Problem: Environmentalists complained that administration land-use plans for our national parks and forests could have long-term negative effects on the environment. Solution: The administration decided it no longer would conduct environmental impact studies to assess the potential consequences of its land-use plans.
See how easy it is to make a problem go away? When Congress started asking questions about FBI malfeasance exposed by whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds, the administration retroactively classified congressional briefings on the subject. When it looked like lawyers representing Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan might make a fuss about the abusive "alternative" interrogation methods he had undergone in secret CIA prisons, the administration announced that Khan couldn't meet with his lawyers to tell them about his treatment because his treatment was itself classified top secret.
Similar magic tricks have worked for the president before, so who's to say they won't work again with Iraq? The administration's early ban on photos of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq was a good start, as was the Pentagon's recent decision to classify statistics on the rising number of anti-U.S. attacks in Iraq this fall. But these are half-measures, not equal to bringing the current crisis to an end. The White House needs to go further. I have a few recommendations for making the president's Iraq problems disappear.
Problem: The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously oppose a temporary surge in U.S. troops. Solution: Eliminate the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; reduce chiefs in rank by 10 pay grades.
Problem: Not enough troops exist for an effective surge, and negative media reporting on Iraq makes the problem all too obvious. Solution: Implement an emergency call-up of all journalists registered under the Selective Service Act. Confiscate their laptops and cameras and recorders and send them to Iraq as part of the surge. (Two birds with one stone!)
Problem: Iraq is patently not yet an oasis of stability on the Middle East map. Solution: Erase the word "Iraq" from all maps in the White House. Write in "Oasis of Stability."
True, you have to believe in magic for these tricks to work. But magic is in the air this Christmas season, and W is full of "a sense of wonder and surprise," as he put it in this year's presidential Christmas message.
If you're having trouble feeling the magic, urge the president to try one final trick.
Problem: The troops in Iraq are causing trouble, complaining about a lack of strategy, lack of equipment, lack of clue as to what they're doing there and what they're dying for. Solution: Make our troops disappear from Iraq — by bringing them home.
When it comes to solving the president's problems, that last trick might actually work.