Looking for Scapegoats in D.C.

There's no city in the world where the smell of blood in the water excites people as quickly as in Washington, D.C.

Witness the recent downfall of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay or disgraced uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff or pedophile Rep. Mark Foley or Sen. George Allen, whose presidential aspirations were done in by his "makaka" comment. And now we're awaiting the equivalent of a medieval auto de fe that threatens to consume Scooter Libby, and possibly his former boss Vice President Cheney, in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

But the sharks are circling around an even bigger target. He's General George Casey Jr., the commander of coalition forces in Iraq for the past 2 1/2 years, who faces a bruising confirmation hearing for his new job as Army chief of staff before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Casey, who was essentially fired by President Bush and replaced by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus -- who was confirmed by the Senate on Friday -- will undergo a tough interrogation by Sen. John McCain and his clone, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and several other members of the committee, including Sen. Hillary Clinton.

I asked McCain last week if he was going to "beat up on Gen. Casey," and he said, "No, I'm not going to beat up on him but I'm going to ask him some tough questions."

McCain is on record as saying he thinks Casey should have asked for more troops to quell the sectarian violence in Iraq, and why, after not asking for more troops, he is now going along with President Bush's plan to send a "surge" of 21,500 more troops to try to shore up the al Maliki government and bring a semblance of order to Baghdad.

Committee members and staffers told me Thursday's hearing will be "long and painful," as they look for a scapegoat to blame for the lack of visible progress in Iraq. I spoke to three Republicans, former chairman John Warner of Virginia, John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and they made it clear that Casey will face tough questioning, although it's unlikely that he won't be confirmed in his new job.

Warner, a former Marine and Secretary of the Navy, told me it would be "a grievous wound" to the Pentagon and the military if Casey isn't confirmed, and Sessions said he doesn't expect serious opposition to Casey from senators other than McCain, Lindsay, Cornyn and perhaps other Republicans like Susan Collins. Ironically, most of the the committee's Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, Joe Lieberman and new Chairman Carl Levin, are among Casey's strongest supporters, although Levin will ask Casey why he has opposed sending additional troops to Iraq.

Full disclosure: I know Casey and consider him a friend. I flew to Iraq with him in 2005 and consider him one of our most competent military commanders, along with overall Persian Gulf region commander Gen. John Abizaid. who's also being replaced.

But I'm concerned that senators like McCain, who sees the Iraq war through the perspective of his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and as a presidential candidate in 2008, will try to make Gen. Casey a scapegoat for the political and diplomatic failures of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, now that former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld is no longer a target.

If the senators are looking for a scapegoat, they should look no further than Rumsfeld or Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz or neoconservative former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, now teaching at Georgetown, who told the Philadelphia Inquirer Tuesday that "it now appears that there may have been substantial preparation by
Saddam Hussein's regime for an insurgency of this kind, and yet the intelligence community didn't find it."

Too bad we didn't know that when we invaded Iraq, before more than 3,000 American soldiers and Marines, and more than 20,000 young Americans were wounded.