Editor's Note: As the 2006 election approached, Republicans and their supporters at GOP-TV (the Fox News Channel) became increasingly strident in defense of Mr. Bush’s policies. Bill O’Reilly, in particular, turned up the volume in his support for the Iraq war (all the while maintaining he was never really pro-war and, of course, he’s not a partisan). He accused the “cut-and-run Defeatocrats” of being opposed to the war on terror whenever they expressed reservations about any of the specific tactics used by the president. Bill O even opined that Osama bin Laden had a rooting interest in a Democratic victory (I’m guessing Osama thinks Bush and the congressional Republicans are doing a fine job, and hopes they “stay the course”). Unlike most of my articles, this one appeared in the Fairfield Weekly, the morning after the election.
Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury,” regularly explores President Bush’s use of strawman dichotomies ― “with us or against us” … “war in Iraq or a mushroom cloud over New York” ― to define his political opponents. Mr. Bush’s staunchest partisans, such as Bill O’Reilly, draw distinctions between those who are serious about terrorism and the “cut-and-run crowd,” who aren’t.
The administration defines “serious” as never questioning its policies ― from warrantless searches and wiretaps to the torture of suspects held indefinitely in secret jails without charges. And Bush loyalists portray those who want oversight of government activities as lacking a serious commitment to freedom, because patriotic Americans “trust us.”
The reasons for distrust are depressingly familiar: the lack of WMDs or a Saddam-9/11 connection, assurances we’d get Osama in Afghanistan and be welcomed in Iraq, and the theory that toppling Saddam would spread democracy throughout the region, thereby making us safer. However, another reason for denying the president a blank check on terrorism revisits O’Reilly’s dichotomy: How seriously does the Bush administration itself take terrorism?
Following 9/11, Americans were serious about the war on terror and willing to sacrifice for it, as our parents had done after Pearl Harbor. All we needed was a leader to inspire us. But Mr. Bush exploited the situation to expand his right-wing agenda and pander to his base, all the while telling us to trust him.
Americans accepted gas rationing during World War II, but after 9/11, we weren’t even asked to conserve. Boatloads of petrodollars continue flowing into Wahhabi coffers in Saudi Arabia, where they fund terror cells, as well as the madrasahs that are producing the next generation of fanatical Islamists. Oil company profits seem to trump the war effort.
When was the last time our country declared war, then lowered taxes to pay for it? If Mr. Bush were serious about this war, you’d think he’d collect enough revenue to underwrite it. Instead, lessening the tax burden on his base — whom he refers to “the haves and the have mores” — trumps his obligation to fund the war effort.
Large-scale borrowing from countries that aren’t wholeheartedly our allies (such as China) decreases our leverage with those nations in the war on terror. And, if the Bush tax cuts become permanent, how will future presidents fund this effort, as the service on our enormous debt eats up an ever-increasing percentage of our budget? Post-Bush, the interest on bloated GOP deficits will surely trump our security.
Mr. Bush has been more serious about settling his dad’s grudge with Saddam than appropriating enough money to secure our ports, mass transit systems and airports, so how seriously can we take his priorities? The government’s own National Intelligence Estimate reports that the Iraq war has actually made us less safe, yet Republicans continue intoning the “stay the course” mantra to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Military leaders have complained for years about Don Rumsfeld’s decision to operate on the cheap in Iraq and Afghanistan, with too little manpower. If Iraq is the “front line” in this war, why are we shifting worn-out regular-army units around, like deck chairs on the Titanic, and trying to pacify the country with overworked reservists?
If this war is so serious, why haven’t we re-instituted the draft, as we did during World War II, Korea and Vietnam? Of course, that would inconvenience some people not currently being affected (that base again), just as our president and vice president had been inconvenienced during the Vietnam era by the necessity of avoiding the draft.
A draft might also inflame that most-apathetic segment of the electorate, the college campuses, as well as the parents of potential draftees. These days, most anti-war protesters look old enough to have picketed with Abbie Hoffman. The administration isn’t eager to increase their numbers or energize a mostly moribund peace movement.
With more manpower available for overseas engagements, Mr. Bush could use the National Guard to staunch the flow of illegal aliens. In time of war, you’d think a sovereign nation might want to control its borders. But big business wants cheap labor, and the GOP hopes to harvest the Hispanic vote, so the administration only pays lip service to illegal immigration. Politics and business as usual trump border security.
Locally, Joe Lieberman’s campaign was also politics as usual. More serious about clinging to his job than accepting the will of his own party’s voters, he took the Dick Cheney position that Ned Lamont’s primary victory “emboldened the terrorists” and encouraged “the al-Qaida types” looking to “break the will of the American people.”
The image of Osama huddled in his cave in Afghanistan, planning his next act of terror based on the results of Connecticut’s Democratic primary is too absurd to be taken seriously. Lamont’s response was right on the money: “My God, here we have a terrorist threat … and the very first thing that comes out of their [Lieberman and Cheney’s] mind is how we can turn this to partisan advantage.”
Repeatedly positing a Saddam-9/11 connection, Cheney muddied the waters of that debate long after even the most-partisan hawks abandoned that contention. Similarly, with his job in jeopardy from Connecticut voters hostile to his party’s war effort, Chris Shays returned from his 14th trip to Iraq calling for a timetable for withdrawal, after having labeled such timetables “absolutely foolish” just a few weeks earlier.
Shays also demonstrated his vaunted independence by telling MSNBC that Don Rumsfeld “needs to step down.” However, he’d previously told CNN, “I’m not sure that, with two years left in the administration, he should.” Serious about muddying the waters on his positions just enough to keep his seat, Shays told constituents, “We’ve seen no progress,” while also claiming, “I’m not distancing myself from the president” or his “noble mission.”
As Iraq deteriorates, the president and his remaining loyalists have drawn distinctions between those who want to stay the course and the strawmen looking to cut and run. Bush advisor Henry Kissinger considers winning “the only option”; however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this is a false choice. Winning isn’t always feasible — sometimes all you can do is cut your losses.
Increasingly, the realistic choice looks to be between cut and run now or cut and run later. After having presided over the latter strategy in Vietnam, you’d think Mr. Kissinger would have learned something about lost causes. The British military seems to be coming around to this realization, and, if the leaks are true, so is Jim Baker’s Iraq Study Group, which will release its report very shortly.
But who will take it seriously?
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