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Resignation or Impeachment: A Strategic Analysis

Given the outcome of the 2006 mid-term elections, and the President's consistently unfavorable poll numbers, it's fair to conclude that a majority of Americans, in their heart of hearts, have decided that the Bush Administration has been a disaster. I would wager that if asked, off the record, a majority of Republicans up for re-election in 2008 would admit that they see this sitting President and Vice-President as a huge impediment to their chances. They would likely breathe a deep sigh of relief if Bush and Cheney were suddenly to disappear, and be replaced in the White House by a caretaker Republican - an elder statesman like John Warner, Dick Lugar, Jim Baker, or even Colin Powell.

I am an advocate of using the most efficient approaches to attaining goals. Many on the political left are clamoring today for impeachment. I submit that the votes are unlikely to ever exist in the Senate to remove either George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. Consider the real-world numbers. With Tim Johnson still recuperating from his stroke, the Democrats theoretically hold a razor thin 50-49 edge, with one of that 50 being Joe Lieberman. Given his continuing strong support for the Iraq war, his martial rhetoric towards Iran, and the White House's decision to withhold support from a Republican challenger in his '06 re-election campaign, I cannot imagine Lieberman ever voting for the removal of either Dick Cheney or George W. Bush. It is possible that there may be other centrist Democrats, like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, unwilling to ultimately vote for the removal of a President or Vice-President a mere 12-18 months before the end of their term.

Given that all politics are local, we must expect every GOP Senator to vote in any impeachment proceeding in a fashion that closely mirrors their base constituents – a majority of which remain partisan Republicans, and prisoners of the right-wing spin machine. Barring some extraordinary turn of events, and the emergence of some piece of evidence so shocking, so disturbing to the average American, that it would instantaneously lead to a sea-change in public opinion, I cannot see any Senate Republican voting for the removal of the President or Vice-President a mere 12-18 months before the end of their term. Advocates of impeachment may argue that several such pieces of evidence already exist; but I counter that if this were true in a tangible, political sense - and make no mistake, impeachment is a political act, not a legal or judicial one  - proceedings would already be well underway.

The truth is that no President or Vice-President has ever been removed by the Senate. The only President to leave office was Richard Nixon - who resigned.

In contrast, we have recently seen several Republicans defy the President, and attempt to float proposals that could lead to a bipartisan solution to limiting, and ideally terminating, the United States' involvement in Iraq. Given this President's messianic intransigence in areas where he has proven himself utterly over his head, the fact is that Harry Reid is going to need 67 votes to override Bush's inevitable veto of any withdrawal plan. He is going to need the support of Senate Republicans, just as Nancy Pelosi will require the support of Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Moreover, there is a significant conservative constituency that would like nothing better to repudiate the President for his budget busting spending, military adventurism, and support for immigration amnesty. They may well see their chances of restoring traditional conservative values in 2008 as markedly improved if they could lose the albatross of the Bush Presidency without seeming to have buckled to Democratic pressure.

Given this equation, and the likelihood that the votes will never exist for an actual removal from office, could the politics of "disparagement" prove a more effective approach?

What is "disparagement"? In political terms, disparagement involves the heaping of shame upon a leader, through the communication of a fact-based lack of regard, contempt, and scorn. Disparagement is what took place on the floor of the House of Commons when, after the fall of France in 1940, fellow Conservative Leo Amery (quoting Oliver Cromwell) abused Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with the words "Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.  In the name of God, go!".

Americans on both sides of the political divide are largely in agreement that the Bush Administration: a) has completely botched the war in Iraq; b) is dangerously out of touch with the American people. According to objective analysis offered in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, al-Qa'ida has essentially reconstituted its forces in Pakistan, and is better positioned to strike the United States than at any time since 9/11. Furthermore, the summary of this most recent NIE asserts:

"We assess that the spread of radical - especially Salafi - Internet sites, increasingly aggressive anti-US rhetoric and actions, and the growing number of radical, self-generating cells in Western countries indicate that the radical and violent segment of the West’s Muslim population is expanding, including in the United States. The arrest and prosecution by US law enforcement of a small number of violent Islamic extremists inside the United States - who are becoming more connected ideologically, virtually, and/or in a physical sense to the global extremist movement - points to the possibility that others may become sufficiently radicalized that they will view the use of violence here as legitimate."

Can there be any doubt that this projected growth of "radical, self-generating cells in Western countries" is an inescapable side effect of the President's Iraq invasion? Given the vast amount of American blood and treasure that has been expended in Dubya's Iraq adventure, can any American in good conscience continue to sugarcoat the findings of this National Intelligence Estimate? Is our strategic position in the War on Terror that dissimilar from that of Britain's in May 1940?

Let me be clear here; I'm not suggesting that either Bush or Cheney is especially likely to resign. But I am saying that ideas have power; that throughout human history, in times of national emergency and military crisis, incompetent commanders always fell on their swords; and that once this idea is allowed to spread its wings, the pressure on Bush and Cheney to either play ball with Congress, or get the hell out of the way, can only increase exponentially.

The challenge would be to begin a disciplined campaign of disparagement, sticking strictly to the voluminous facts documenting both Dubya and Cheney's gross incompetence as military leaders (and scrupulously avoiding any extraneous charges) while suggesting in a matter-of-fact fashion that both the President and Vice-President consider resigning.

In adopting this approach, you are not challenging the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief, but simply pointing out that which even a blind man could see today - that this Commander-in-Chief is utterly incompetent, and has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt, a singular unwillingness to listen to superior advice.

In adopting this indirect approach, you focus attention not on partisan maneuvers, but solely on the issue of the President's and Vice-President's military failures, documented incompetence, and refusal to change course in the face of overwhelming evidence. You force any remaining Administration dead-enders to continually defend, and associate themselves, with Bush and Cheney's sad records.

In a best case scenario, you might very well get the American people to go along with the very reasonable notion that incompetent military leaders are always well-advised to resign, and that the national interest trumps consideration of any President's legacy or reputation. Again, remember Amery's, "Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.  In the name of God, go!". In a more modest scenario, you force reckless militarists in either party to continually defend Bush's record through 2008, and thus further sabotage their own reputations, and chances for eventual re-election.

If the votes in the Senate to actually remove a President or Vice-President are unlikely to ever exist, and the only way that Bush and Cheney are leaving before the end of their terms is via resignation, why not begin the process of skillfully orchestrating the bipartisan calls for that resignation sooner, rather than later?

Matthew Carnicelli © 2007. All rights reserved.

Originally published July 24, 2007; revised July 25, 2007.