Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff and senior adviser on political affairs - by some reckonings the third most powerful person in the administration - resigned on Monday, effective at the end of August.
Mr. Rove devised and implemented the political strategy for the Bush White House, and he is roundly acknowledged to have elevated the role of politics in the decision- and policy-making processes to unprecedented levels. Yet, even with the clouds of scandal still roiling over what strongly appears to be determined efforts to politicize the Department of Justice, Karl Rove should be remembered for something else: the manner in which he used his vaunted, anything-goes tactics to shape President Bush's response in the wake of 9/11, and the tragic consequence of that response that is the American invasion and occupation of Iraq.
For while the cadre of neoconservatives who cooked up the hare-brained scheme to invade Iraq in the baseless hope of spreading democracy in the Middle East are now justly reviled, it must be remembered that they could never have done it without the political plotting and message discipline that were Mr. Rove's forte. Without the man President Bush christened "Turd Blossom," the case that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) were a direct threat to the United States might never have been made. Without Karl Rove, the case for invasion might well have had to rest on its true justifications: unsound armchair quarterbacking from a collection of wishful thinkers with delusions of grandeur.
Although there have always been issues that divide the electorate, as well as politicians adept at exploiting those divisions, Karl Rove's focus on splitting the country to keep his boss and the GOP in power elevated (if that's the right word) the use of so-called "wedge issues" to a tightly-controlled science. He was dilligent in his polling, precise in the crafting of messages, and both enthusiastic and ruthless in driving them home through coordinated communication. But as StratFor (subscription required) notes:
... As we have argued many times, for good or bad, there were many reasons for the United States to decide to invade Iraq, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was not one of them. The use of this as the justification was a classic Rove move. The real reasons could have been extremely complex and subtle, but Rove's political strategy was to not allow complexity to get in the way of building a majority coalition. WMD was a great wedge issue. No reasonable person wanted Saddam Hussein to have WMD, and therefore, opposing the war - defined as about WMD in Hussein's hands - was painted in the worst light possible.Despite an execrable record that includes a vicious smear campaign againt John McCain during the 2000 presidential primaries - as well as "colorful" stories like Ron Suskind's recollection of Rove's declaration about an unnamed political operative that "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!" - this is what we should remember about the White House Deputy Chief of Staff: his crucial role in the greatest foreign policy disaster in this country's history.
Where Mr. Rove's techniques were successful in electoral politics, however, clearly, both their form and substance have proven to have no place in either foreign policy or daily governance. The more the Bush Administration relied on the Rove formula of over-simplification and electoral division, the more support for the Iraq War eroded and White House credibility - and popularity - deteriorated.
Karl Rove may have helped a barely marginal candidate to two presidential terms by a pair of whisker-thin margins, but it is a measure of Mr. Bush's inability to adapt to changing realities - as well as his penchant for misplaced loyalty and cronyism - that the administration believed demonizing half the country for opposing the president would succeed in the long term. While Karl Rove was instrumental in installing a man in the White House who is likely to be recalled as the worst president in U.S. history, ultimately, his methods fully exposed the policies of George W. Bush for the divisive, simple-minded failures that they are. In the end, it may be that the nation owes Karl Rove a debt of gratitude - through no deliberate effort of his own - for being the resolutely irredeemable political hatchet man that he is.
(But, I'll understand if you don't want to shake his hand.) *
* Doubly so if you are in the military, have family members who are, or are of Iraqi extraction.