The Editor's Desk

On an April morning earlier this year, sitting in an armchair in his office on the campus of Texas A&M, George H.W. Bush was drinking coffee and talking--reluctantly, but still talking--about history. Billy Graham was in town (staying at the nearby Marriott), and the evangelist's visit brought pieces of the past back to the former president's mind, particularly memories of Graham staying with the Bushes in the White House on the eve of the first gulf war. A visitor suggested that history would probably remember the 41st president's policy toward Iraq more kindly than it would the 43rd's. "Iraq could still turn around," Bush said, quickly, even sharply. "We just don't know yet."

The words were an instinctive defense of a son he loves and respects, and the former president is right: a change in Iraq--something between "stay the course" and "cut and run"--could in fact stabilize the chaos. But if there is resolution, it may come in large measure not from Bush 43's world but from his father's, through a commission chaired by James A. Baker III and Lee Hamilton--and whose members included Robert M. Gates, a Bush 41 hand who is replacing Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense.

It was a seismic week in American politics, and our 31-page cover package explores the midterm election's aftershocks. For Republicans, the news from the polling places could hardly have been worse: the Democrats took both houses of Congress back for the first time in a dozen years, sweeping Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to power. The vote did not seem to be a call, however, for a new liberal order; the message, it appeared, was that the great American center, which is often written off, reasserted itself.

It was fitting, then, that the results prompted Rumsfeld's removal and brought renewed attention to the work of the Baker-Hamilton group, which is due to make its recommendations next month. As Evan Thomas reports, the return of men like Baker and Gates to prominence suggests that Bush 43 has at least partially gotten the message--at last--that the neocons are simply not up to the task of fixing Iraq.

As John Barry and Michael Hirsh deconstruct Rumsfeld's reign and Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball profile Gates, Jonathan Darman goes behind the scenes of the Democrats' congressional rout, and Richard Wolffe explains why Karl Rove wrongly believed he knew more than the pollsters--or, in the end, the people. Fareed Zakaria,Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter offer perspectives on the road ahead, from Iraq to the 2008 presidential campaign. Michelle Molloy and Beth Johnson did heroic photo editing; Nurit Newman handled the cover; Alex Ha, Dan Revitte and Robin Brown-Friedel designed the package, and the graphics were produced by Bret Begun,Kevin Hand,Bonnie Scranton,Therese Shechter,Jessica Ramirez,Marc Bain and Lee Hudson Teslik.

When he was president, Bush 41 sometimes brushed off questions with three words: "Watch and learn." As the more pragmatic politicians and diplomats converge on a new way forward in Iraq, we are all watching, and are eager to learn what light the wisdom of years can shed on the gloom of a war gone wrong.

The Editor's Desk | News