Tuesday, August 26, 2003

In response to the moderate left post mentioned below, Dwight Meredith has ferreted out an odd example of a right-wing commentator, Maggie Gallagher, unwittingly supporting his point:

While I agree that the threat of terrorism will be a large issue, the elephant in the room is that a conservative like Gallagher thinks that the politics of the Iraq war have shifted so far that it will not be a major political plus for the President.

It was not long ago that our Republican friends were assuring us that the war was the one and only issue that mattered for 2004. The war, the argument went, placed the Democrats against the views of the American people and assured Mr. Bush’s reelection.

Now a conservative partisan like Maggie Gallagher does not think the war is even on the short list of important issues.

Her parenthetical comment of “give it up, Dean” is remarkable. That comment suggests that Gallagher thinks that Dean, not Bush, is the political aggressor on the war. Thus, the question is whether Dean and not Bush can make political hay from the war. It is difficult to overstate the political importance of that shift.

On the issue of terrorism, who will be on offense and who on defense? Gallagher says that “we are vulnerable, and we know it.” Whose job has it been to eliminate the vulnerabilities? Who failed to provide funding for the first responders? Who plays footsie with the country that spawns, funds and supports the terrorists?
Well, first, I need to remind Dwight that publicly attacking Saudi Arabia is a bad idea. It ticks off the Saudis, for one, but worse than that is that makes them look even more like American clients to their neighbours. This makes it singularly unlikely to cause the House of Saud to back away from the policies that harm American interests in the first place, because they can't afford to look like clients or Osama will be able to exploit it to gain thousands of new followers. Their hands will be tied, whether they want to change or not. Saudi Arabia is a case where quiet diplomatic pressure must be the instrument of the day, unless one wants to spark a civil war in one of the most economically important countries in the world. Reform must happen, yes, but like many things in politics it must be a process of evolution, not revolution.

(Regular readers will no doubt remember the disdain I have for revolutions, both as rhetorical tools and political ones.)

This is why Saudi is a "tar baby" issue... attempts to attack the Republicans from the right will not only create instability, but lock the candidate into a position that is strategically and diplomatically foolish.

Anyway, on to the main point. Dwight's right that the war will likely be backburnered unless it turns around dramatically. The news out of Britain is extremely harsh and embarassing to Blair's government, and while Bush enjoys more power than Blair, attacks on Blair have already spilled over and will no doubt continue to do so. There is no foreseeable way that the troops will be pulled from Iraq before the next election, unless Bush is willing to risk the spectacle of a disintegrated Iraq as a backdrop to his election campaign. This is unlikely, as Afghanistan is probably going to present him with enough cries about America's very own
"failed state". Internationalization is unlikely in Iraq, so it's the U.S. or nothing, and the U.S. can't muster up enough troops to pacify the areas of the country whose stability weakens daily. Convenient theories aside, I honestly doubt it's the Iraqi attackers that are "desperate" here. Bush's best hope is that the news cycle focuses on something else besides Iraq, and will likely do so if Bush starts refocusing on the real war on terror. Considering his only remaining high scores are on the WoT, he'd be an idiot not to.

Thus we get to the unofficial campaign theme of Bush/Cheney 2004. Ready for it? Here it comes:

"Vote for me or die screaming".

That's what it comes down to. Many stories I've read around the net have emphasized that the "security moms" galvanized by 9/11 continue to support Bush because they're deathly afraid that if Bush isn't there they'll be horribly killed in a terrorist attack. Attempts to say "Bush has nothing to do with the lack of attacks, and is endangering the country" will be met with blank stares and insistence that the lack of attacks is precisely due to Bush's "effective fighting of the war on terror and protecting Americn security"-- even if they can't precisely figure out what it is that he's done. President as placebo.

Bush and his advisors know about American politics. They know that presidents get the credit and the blame for things out of their control unless they're very careful, know that even the least complex critiques against the president will be ignored by those who need to believe that they're safe, know how to exploit events for their own benefit, and (most importantly) know how to whitewash brutal claims such as the one above in more comforting terms, even if all involved know exactly what's going on. Bush and the rolling re-election squad would never say "support me or Osama will dance on your bones", but they will talk about Bush's "commitment to security", about "the fight to win the war on terror" and the Democrats' "inexperience in security issues" and "weakness on terrorism".

Look at how Bush speaks. Whenever he paints things in good vs. evil terms, it's intentionally chosen not simply because he sees the world in such terms (although he likely does), but because it's comforting and threatening at the same time: comforting because the side of "good" that supports him can feel confident that what they're doing and what he's doing for them is right, proper, and just... and threatening because although he promises victory, the act of painting the opposition as a primal, Satanic evil makes them seem more powerful, more dangerous, and more difficult to defeat than they would be otherwise. Good will triumph over evil; evil still must remain powerful, and can devour those who stray from the flock. Both America and its enemies become seemingly wiser, more dangerous, and more powerful than they really are.

This is how Bush thinks he will win... through fear.It's not new, and it's perhaps inevitable in the wake of 9/11, but it should be understood nonetheness.

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