CASEY UP TO BAT…. The New York Times’ front-page account of the Bush administration’s unraveling policy in Iraq is easily today’s must-read, for more reasons than one.

The article, on its face, is fairly devastating. At every key moment in the conflict, the Bush gang has been a couple of steps behind where they should have been. It includes too many familiar phrases, such as administration officials being “taken by surprise” and failing “to take warnings seriously.”

That said, Josh Marshall is right to scratch just below the surface of the article, and explain that the article subtly identifies a scapegoat for the White House’s problems. It’s about playing the blame game, and Gen. George Casey is losing.

According to the White House, the person to blame for Iraq is Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., the top American commander in the country. And Casey’s so bad that President Bush is probably going to can him before his current tour concludes this summer. Probably as soon as next month.

In so many words, Casey’s policy (which, reading between the lines, it’s pretty clear Casey thought was Bush’s desired policy) was maintain current troop levels and ‘standing down as the Iraqis stand up’. You may have thought that was the Bush policy. But apparently not. “Over the past 12 months,” the Times now tells us, “as optimism collided with reality, Mr. Bush increasingly found himself uneasy with General Casey’s strategy.”

In fact, the Casey policy left the White House so wrong footed that they were “constantly lagging a step or two behind events on the ground.”

This isn’t entirely new; just two months ago, then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said “generals on the ground” were to blame for conditions in Iraq, not Rumsfeld, and certainly not the president.

Still, this New York Times article is a more blatant example of throwing Casey under the bus. From the article: “[A]s Baghdad spun further out of control … Bush grew concerned that General Casey, among others, had become more fixated on withdrawal than victory.”

Ah yes, the subtle smear the White House favors most. Either you’re for an ambiguous, impossible-to-define “victory” or you’re against it.

But if “Casey’s plan” fell out of favor, and there was too much “fixation” on withdrawal, why not overhaul the policy sooner? According to the Times, the White House couldn’t — because there were “political calculations” to worry about.

Many of Mr. Bush’s advisers say their timetable for completing an Iraq review had been based in part on a judgment that for Mr. Bush to have voiced doubts about his strategy before the midterm elections in November would have been politically catastrophic.

It’s good to know the Bush gang never lost sight of its priorities. Better to worry about a political catastrophe than an actual catastrophe, right?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.