ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports: Top Bush adviser Karl Rove said Sunday that he thinks the Iraq war will not be the dominant issue in next year’s presidential campaign because of his assumption about "where it is—where it is likely to be" come springtime of 2008.
"I think Iraq may or may not be the big issue," said Rove. "It depends on where Iraq is by March, or April, or May of next year. I think it’s likely not to be the dominant issue because I think, because of my assumptions about where it is – where it is likely to be."
Rove’s Iraq comments, coming at a time when support for President Bush’s Iraq strategy is unraveling among Senate Republicans, are fueling speculation among critics of the Bush administration that the troop drawdown is being planned more for political reasons than because of an improving situation on the ground in Iraq.
Beyond his own assumption about where U.S. troop levels are likely to be, Rove thinks Iraq will lose its dominant status because Democrats will "want the issue to be toned down" so as not to box in a potential Democratic president.
"So I think this is sort of like Korea in 1952 and 53," said Rove of the Democrats seeking the White House, "where Eisenhower made a comment which led people to believe that he was for change: ‘I’ll go to Korea,’ but in essence, kept in place the policies of Truman after the election."
Rove believes Democrats will want the Iraq issue "toned down" in order to avoid a situation in which a winning Democratic presidential candidate faces either a precipitous withdrawal or an extended engagement which causes a large portion of the Democratic Party to turn on the party’s newly elected president.
"I think it also may be less of an issue because if you are a Democrat," said Rove, "you do not want to be in a place where on Jan. 21st, 2009, if a Democrats gets elected president, the Democratic president faces the likelihood — there will be US troops in Iraq — and so you want the issue to be toned down because you don’t want to be in a place where on Jan. 21, if you are a Democrat, and you get elected, you face one of two options: you bring them home precipitously and everybody, virtually everybody, agrees that the country descends into chaos, and that’s on your watch, or that you keep them there in a reasonable configuration — redeployed — in which case a large part of your party is angry with you."
Iraq will also lose its salience as an issue, according to Rove, because Republican presidential candidates will discuss national security in a "broader context than just Iraq."
Rove’s claim that the eventual Democratic presidential nominee would want the Iraq issue "toned down" in 2008 was mocked Monday by the president of a liberal group working to end the war.
"Karl Rove is smoking something if he thinks Democrats are going to abandon a position supported by 70 percent of Americans," said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change. "It just shows how much Karl Rove has lost his political touch . . . Americans don’t believe this war was worth it and they want our troops out of harm’s way."
Rove portrayed President Bush’s troop buildup, which began earlier this year, as making a troop drawdown possible.
"The idea is that the surge doesn’t last indefinitely," said Rove. "The object of the surge is to clear and to allow the Iraqis to have time to properly hold and to do enough damage to the infrastructure of the enemy that it is difficult for the enemy to come back."
Rove made his comments while speaking at an annual "ideas festival" sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic magazine in Aspen, Colo.