Time to talk war
The mantra of real estate is location, location, location. In politics it's timing, timing, timing. Every successful politician knows that the public conversation must be conducted on his or her terms and at the right time—which means during the campaign season when people are listening. President Bush has decided that now, with the elections nearing, is the time to talk war.
Most Americans agree Saddam Hussein is a dangerous tyrant who must be contained. However, we are also understandably uncertain and ambivalent about President Bush's timing in placing the matter of war on the fast track agenda. For the past several months Bush and Cheney have seldom talked publicly about anything except war. The media talk shows, Sunday interview programs and the newspapers have overflowed with war pronouncements by the secretaries of Defense and State along with the President's top foreign policy advisors. The White House is orchestrating an incessant drumbeat of war talk.
Why now? Why late summer and early fall? Does Iraq suddenly have the capability of producing and delivering weapons of mass destruction? No one, including George Bush has made that claim. Nor has anyone offered evidence Iraq was complicit in the terrible events of September 11th. Most foreign policy observers, both in this country and around the world, remain uncertain that America is even a target of Iraq's. Even though preparedness and prevention are the wisest course when confronted with an obviously dangerous tyrant such as Saddam Hussein, the question lingers: why talk war during campaign season? Campaigns are not exactly the most thoughtful time to decide whether to send our young men and women into harm's way.
Why now, when almost all of the world's national leaders believe unilateral threats against Iraq are out of alignment and smack of neocolonialism? Why is the President so insistent when both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations have been reluctant to go to the trigger?
Perhaps the answer is found in George W. Bush's own statements. Bush recently accused the Democrats in the U.S. Senate of "not being interested in the security of the American people." Both Bush and Cheney have been on the campaign trail regularly, giving partisan speeches for Republican congressional candidates and at every campaign stop they speak almost exclusively about war.
A respected Republican congressman, Ray LaHood of Illinois, has said, "The President is making a mistake by trying to sell his Iraq policy on the campaign trail." A former Republican speech writer for Richard Nixon has said of Bush's partisan remarks, "Over the line, a cheap shot."
Yes, George W. Bush has answered the question about timing. He may be wrong or right about Hussein—I personally believe Saddam needs to be contained, if not removed—but the reason the President has raised the issue to such an intensely high pitch during the summer and fall is political timing.
All of us can remember the serious political trouble which had befallen Bush and the Republicans not many months ago. The President's pals in the Texas energy company Enron were in full flight, including Bush's buddy, Enron's CEO Kenneth Lay. who Bush called "Kenny Boy." Bush himself was found to have been involved in shady stock transactions. Vice President Cheney was under intense criticism for refusing to reveal the names of the secret corporate advisors on national energy policy. The wealthy CEOs of major American corporations, many of them freed from appropriate public oversight by Republican-led deregulation, were being scandalized by their own greed and fraud.
Bush had been caught with his hand in the Social Security cookie jar, trying to privatize that retirement system. Healthcare policy is in critical condition and the Republican Congress refused to provide relief. Following eight years of good economic times, the economy turned to recession. The stock market plummeted, wiping out hundreds of billions of dollars in the savings accounts of millions of Americans. Even the war on terrorism went badly for the administration. We were unable, as Bush had promised, "to get Bin Laden—dead or alive." The anthrax attack went unanswered, the war in Afghanistan seemed to end on a whimper - if it has ended. George Bush's favorable poll ratings had dropped like a dead weight, plummeting 25% in only a few months.
Throughout the country, even here in the West where Bush ran well in the 2000 election, Republican candidates were finding themselves in political trouble. Democratic candidates for the Congress had, according to early summer polling, moved ahead in the Dakotas, Montana, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Bush, always obsessed with politics and winning, had to change the subject and he has—just in time for next month's critical elections.