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OK, let's try to parse this one out. At his press conference last week, Bush hinted at a new flexibility on Iraq, at least with regard to tactics, but announced no new policies; in short, he merely changed the window dressing -- emerging with what E.J. Dionne and others accurately call "stay-the-course lite." So what was really going on?
I see several subtextual agendas in Bush's recent public pronouncements about Iraq:
First, Bush needed to give the impression, pre-election, that his hugely unpopular Iraq policy might possibly be changing in the immediate future. In other words, a snow job for still-reachable conservative Republicans who might want to vote for GOP candidates if only Bush would shift his direction with regard to Iraq.
Short sum-up: Bush isn't shifting. Check out these quotes from that press conference: "Our goals are unchanging. ... Absolutely, we're winning...and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. ... We have a plan for victory." In short, there will be no real policy shift pre-election and probably not any major shift after November 7 either. Those permanent military bases are there for a reason.
WHO "LOST" IRAQ AND WHO WILL BE BLAMED?
Second, in the likelihood that Iraq totally degenerates and America has to depart quickly, Bush is preparing the 2008 ground for the "who-lost-Iraq?" blame game. It isn't, can't be, the Bush Administration, since their policy, they would have us all believe, is the correct one. So it must be someone else's fault. Here are some likely scapegoats:
The Iraqis. The Maliki government, for good reason, senses that it's being set up to take the fall. The Bush Administration reasoning will be: Well, we gave them the benchmarks and they couldn't meet them, so it's their fault. There will be no admission that the American benchmarks are based on a flawed grasp of what's really happening on the ground in Iraq.
If Maliki gets too far out of line, or continues to prove his ineffectiveness, the CheneyBush Administration could well encourage a military coup to topple him, reminiscent of how the U.S. treated its South Vietnamese government allies in the 1960s and early-'70s. (Bush said of Maliki last week: "We're with him, so long as he continues to make tough decisions," i.e., continues to make decisions in line with U.S. policy.)
When client governments fail to do the U.S. bidding or are unable to do so, the usual practice is to install a more amenable puppet into place. If nothing works and you have to exit the country, you've got one of your handy scapegoats already on the chopping block.
The American People. Another dastardly group that can be blamed for "losing Iraq" is the Democratic Party and, in a broader sense, the American people. The media will be included in this category of scapegoats, since they dared to report bad news of what was happening on the ground in Iraq. Both the Democrats and the media had the temerity to ask embarrassing questions about the wreck that is Bush's war policy, therefore -- and here comes the spin -- they "didn't support the troops" and thus undercut civilian support for the "war on terrorism." In short, "unpatriotic" elements helped the U.S. "lose" Iraq (as if we ever "owned" it) and thus made America less secure. It's "who lost China?" all over again.
The Military. Another scapegoat being groomed for a starring role: the U.S. military. Bush and Rumsfeld claim they always defer to the generals on the ground, though in private they make sure to punish any military officers who venture beyond BushCheneyRumsfeld policy. So it will be "the generals" who got the strategy all wrong, never the occupants of the White House who gave them their marching orders and set the simplistic parameters under which they were forced to work.
In other news:
IRAN WAITING IN THE WINGS
Unless some extraordinary surprise occurs in the days remaining before the November 7 balloting, it seems that the U.S. will not be bombing Iran's fledgling nuclear-research labs. There are no firm indications of such an immediate intent.
But such action might well take place between the election and when the new Congress is sworn-in in late-January of 2007. If the GOP manages to hang on to power in the House and/or Senate, CheneyBush may decide that have a new "mandate," and thus have more free rein to attack Iran.
If the Democrats humiliate the rightwing Republicans and take over the House and/or the Senate, CheneyBush may decide to attack Iran both for geopolitical reasons, to be sure, but also because such a war would definitely divert public attention away from the election results and, the Administration hopes, would help rally the public around the "commander-in-chief" for the final two years of his tenure. (Meanwhile, word leaked from Iran last week that it recently doubled its uranium-processing capacity, which remains miniscule at the moment; the best estimate is that even if the Iranians are seeking to develop nuclear weapons, they're 10 years out.)
It would seem unlikely that Bush&Co. would be lunatic enough to actually invade Iran with ground troops to secure that country's huge oil fields; the U.S. hasn't the troop strength or political support back home or internationally to do so, and would risk getting bogged down in yet another Middle East quagmire, battling a huge native resistance. (However, the same thing could have been said about the insanity of invading Iraq, and these reckless ideologues did it anyway. This time, CheneyBush also have to worry about the U.S. being seen as an "international threat to peace," and be forced to endure retaliation of one sort or another.)
The Administration's neo-conservatives, forever lodged in fantasy, have said they believe a "shock & awe"-type attack from the air, perhaps using nuclear bunker-buster bombs, will convince the rulers of Iran to bow to the will of the Americans. Such thinking didn't work in Iraq, but they still seem to believe it will work in Iran.
NEO-CON FANTASISTS STILL ACTIVE
Many of the Bush neo-cons truly believe that "the Iranian resistance" will rise up when the U.S. attacks and will overthrow the hard-line theocratic mullahs who rule their country, and help the U.S. install a more flexible government. Not bloody likely; Iranians of whatever political stripe no doubt would react the same way Americans would if the U.S. were to be attacked by outside forces: they would rally around their leaders, however much they dislike and distrust them.
In any event, the U.S. is actively engaged at the United Nations in trying to strangle Iran's rulers economically, with sanctions, while it tries to pass Security Council resolutions that, as in the case with Iraq three years ago, might provide a fig-leaf causus belli for some sort of U.S. military action.
During all this, of course, the CheneyBush Administration is adamantly opposed to face-to-face negotiations with Iran's rulers -- even while it seems to be moving slowly toward possibly doing so with North Korea, which actually has an up-and-running nuclear weapons program.
In short, the Bush White House's foreign policy toward Iran is an ad hoc work-in-progress, with no clear diplomatic strategy for dealing with the over-arching issue of nuclear proliferation by nation-states who stand in opposition to U.S. policies in the world. The U.S. is left with little more it can do other than threaten and bluster and occasionally drop bombs on those weak nations who can't do much harm to America.
This may explain why so many smaller nations want to possess nuclear weapons; those that have such weapons are treated with much more caution and respect -- e.g., North Korea -- than those that haven't yet joined the nuclear club, for example Iran.
STEALING AN ELECTION
Let us imagine that the Republicans can manage a way to steal the election on November 7. How would Karl Rove and his minions have pulled it off?
Rove may well understand that a Democratic landslide is going to be so overwhelming as to preclude any significant fiddling with the election-night numbers in most states. In enough tight races, however, friendly computer geeks can adjust certain numbers here and there and emerge with key district victories that wind up (surprise!) going to the Republicans.
In other key districts, GOP victory can be achieved through massive voter suppression: Purging hundreds of thousands of likely Democatic voters, mainly minorities, from the voting rolls under one ruse or another. Delivering voting machines that don't work, or whose software is programmed not to work correctly, to largely-minority Democratic precincts; as I write this, in early-voting in Florida and Missouri, e-voting machines are turning Democratic votes into Republican ones. GOP lawyers standing outside the precincts loudly challenging the right to vote of certain individuals, usually the poor and minorities. Engineering long lines that force voters in those areas to stand for hours, with many feeling they have to leave to go to work. Presenting "provisional ballots" to those who were lopped off the rolls but who demand to vote, but those ballots are then never counted. Rumors and flyers warning that anyone with unpaid parking or traffic tickets or child-support payments, or without naturalization documents, will not be permitted to vote and might even be arrested. And so on. All of these tactics, and more, were used effectively in the 2004 election in a number of states.
In the November 7th election in precincts where the voting machines do not provide a way for the ballots to be verified by the voter, with a receipt number that can be checked later, the GOP can pick up a seat here, a seat there. Rove&Co. may not be able to hold back the tidal wave of anti-Republican voting across the country, but using all the many dirty-trick resources at their command -- and with little oversight by Democratic lawyers and election officials -- they could potentially steal enough seats in the House to remain in power, or figure they can at least maintain their ideological control of the Congress if the Republicans lose the outright majority by allying themselves with conservative Democrats.
One more scheme that might well be employed: the GOP could challenge the election results in enough tight Congressional races to keep Democratic victors from being sworn in (that may be why they've raised the issue of a Venezuelan company that owns 17% of the U.S. voting machines); those races would then be decided by the existing Congress, which the Republicans still would control.
PAUSE BEFORE ORDERING THE BUBBLY
In short, if Democrats are ordering the champagne for November 7th post-election celebrations, they'd better exercise some caution. Rove, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the whole crew down in the White House bunker are not going to go easily into that dark night of defeat and humiliation. They sought power, they clawed and cheated their way into power, they are enjoying the fruits of exercising their power, they eviscerated the Constitution in establishing their power, they want more power, and they aren't going to simply issue a civil smile and concede defeat. They will do anything, ANYTHING, to ensure that they remain in control -- if for no other reason than to try to keep themselves out of the federal slammer.
The lesson here is that the American citizenry cannot permit itself once again to be rolled over on Election Day. There should be massive and well-organized exit-polling; there should be Democratic attorneys stationed at each and every likely voting precinct and tabulation center where problems could be anticipated; there should be legal observers (one would hope with some computer smarts) observing the chain of custody of ballots and e-voting computer chips and how the ballots are tabulated, suing if necessary to gain access to the source codes.
Are any of these things being done? I don't think so, at least not on the massive scale it would take to make those manipulating the voting and vote-counting think twice about what they're doing. And so, on November 8, the opposition to CheneyBush may wake up to an ongoing nightmare of incalcuable dimensions.
I am convinced that if the election is honest, with votes honestly tabulated, the CheneyBush Administration will be dealt a serious loss on November 7. But that is a mighty big "if," given the history of how Rove and his supporting cast have behaved during the elections of the past six years.
Let's be highly cautious optimists, making sure to vote and getting our voters to the polls, standing around (dressed in Democrat blue) outside the voting venues, making sure we pay attention to how our votes are being registered and tabulated, making noise when something seems fishy, and so on. Finally, we all have to be prepared to go into the streets and massively march in opposition if and when it's apparent that the election has been stolen yet again.
This election is our best chance to begin to turn America around, and back into the light of its better self. Let's not blow it by letting our hope blind us to the more nefarious realities on the ground. #
First published by The Crisis Papers 10/31/06.
Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)