Et Tu, Cal

While the mainstream media gave major attention Friday to Thursday’s defection by New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Dominici’s from President Bush’s Iraq policy, Cal Thomas, a fixture of the far right for some 25 years, also appeared to have thrown in the towel, and not only on Iraq, with respect to Bush’s prospects.

In his latest column, “The Cost of Failure,” Thomas called for Bush to appoint a bipartisan panel — presumably something like the Iraq Study Group (ISG) co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton – to help him – and the country – survive his remaining 18 months in office in the face of “multiple threats.”

In a plea for renewed bipartisanship, Thomas cited Lincoln’s decision during the Civil War to “bring his severest critics into his administration to work with him, not against him for the promotion of the general welfare.” He goes on:

“Since he has nothing to lose at this point with his approval ratings at record lows, the president might wish to consider the high road. Nothing is to be gained by further swagger and bluster, but much might be accomplished from a genuine reaching out to Democrats, including some of the more responsible ones, during the remainder of the Bush presidency. Ronald Reagan kept a saying on his desk: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” That attitude might work for Mr. Bush.

“The president should name a panel of prominent Democrats and Republicans to help him during the next 18 months — not to make him look better but to tackle difficult problems that partisanship has not solved. He might call it ‘Americans United,’ or some other high-minded name that would elevate dialogue beyond the reach of partisan dividers. Didn’t he say once that he is ‘a uniter, not a divider’? This could help him prove it.

“Humbling oneself can be difficult, especially for a president, but the rewards would be substantial and beneficial to the country. Leadership is something conveyed by the people, not imposed by the leader. If people trust you, they are willing to be led. If they don’t, they rebel at your sense of direction, or they conclude you have lost your way. That is the conclusion an overwhelming majority of Americans — including many Bush voters and former supporters — have reached concerning this president and his presidency.

“Assembling a group of respected Republicans and Democrats, bypassing the rank partisanship of the Democratic congressional leadership, and declaring his final months in office will be dedicated solely to attempting to do what’s right for the country and not for Republican advantage in the next election might — if successful — have the incidental benefit of helping Republicans in 2008. That must not be seen as the motive, or any attempt at consensus will fail.

“Go on and try it, Mr. President. There isn’t much left to lose. The nation cannot afford the cost of failure.”

I don’t follow Thomas nearly as closely as I do the neo-conservatives and don’t know his current standing among Bush’s right-wing loyalists. But his despair, and the fact that his column runs in some 550 U.S. newspapers, would seem to signal a further serious erosion in confidence on the part of the president’s core constituency.

It’s also worth noting that Thomas, like his hard-line neo-conservative and Christian Right allies, has been an ardent promoter of the notion that the West faces in “Islamofascism” a threat equal to or greater than World War II and the Cold War. He also strongly opposed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, or indeed any territorial compromise with the Palestinians (“They are all crocodiles”), and, in the wake of a particular lethal suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco in June, 2001, called for Israel to expel “large numbers of its Palestinian residents to Arab nations.”

Of course, some of the “more responsible Democrats” Thomas has in mind probably include the likes of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, whose Wall Street Journal op-ed Friday, “Iran’s Proxy War,” echoes Michael Ledeen in its appreciation for the complexities of different Sunni and Shi’a Islamist groups in the Middle East (“The fanatical government of Iran is the common denominator that links them together.”). But Lieberman is particularly far-out, and the overall tone of Thomas’ commentary carries with it a certain resignation that Bush and his policies have simply lost all credibility.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.