Launching a Trial Balloon

We take you now to the Situation Room. No, no: Not the one with Wolf Blitzer and all those confusing graphics. This is the other Situation Room at the White House, the super-secure "Cone of Silence" where the top officials in the government monitor ... political developments.

"Karl? I thought you had left."

"Not yet. I haven't finished all my news interviews yet. Meanwhile, we need to work on the Iraq strategy for next month."

"Hey, Karl, did you see that comment from Senator Carl Levin?"

Rove seems to go into a trance.

"Carl Levin. Democrat. Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. From Michigan. A state with a political history that is tied to the automobile industry and the union movement ..."

"Karl. Please. Snap out of it! Have you read the papers? Levin is saying that we need to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki."

"You don't mean 'we,'" snaps Rove, "you mean 'the Iraqi people!"

"Yeah, whatever," the aide responds. "My bad."

"Anyway," the aide continues, "maybe Levin has handed us a real opportunity here. What if when we feed the president his lines today we script answers to the predictable reporter questions with a response so tepid it leaves the impression he's really endorsing a change in the Iraq government?"

Rove is not at his sharpest. He'd been up late the night before, rapping and dancing at a black-tie dinner.

"What's the point of that?"

"Well, if it works, then by September we will have shaped the debate over bringing the troops home into whether the United States can abandon the Iraqi people just as the democratic process is overthrowing their government."

Now Rove's calculator is calculating:

"That's a terrific idea. Where is the president, anyway?"

"He's up in Canada somewhere, meeting with the other North American leaders."

"What in heaven's name for?" Rove is clearly puzzled.

"Beats me. Maybe it's when we pretend the other countries aren't just suburbs of our country. But what do you think about the Iraq plan?"

"Sure. Go ahead. Maybe we can combine it with another speech suggesting that a pullout now abandons allies in need. He can compare this moment in history to World War II — and, perhaps, Cambodia. That always does the trick. By September, the congressional Democrats will be afraid of their own shadows. Again."

"Karl. You will be gone soon. We'll miss you here. But your legacy at the White House will live on, maybe past the Bush presidency. At least past next month. We'll worry about the consequences later."

More in International

The Kurds show the way

Read more »