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World War III: The GOP's Ultimate Trump Card?

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Message Randolph Holhut
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DUMMERSTON, Vt. - We know that the Republican Party, the party of incompetence and corruption, is in big trouble heading into November's congressional elections.

We also know that fear is the only card the GOP has left to play.

That's why it makes perfect sense for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other right-wing luminaries to be saying right now that the United States is currently engaged in World War III.

It's not just hot air, though. They are floating a trial balloon for something that should send a chill down everyone's spine - transforming the current so-called war on terror from a limited war into a total reorientation of our society, economy and politics toward a total, all-out global war.

Gingrich recently told The Seattle Times that he wants President Bush to recognize that this nation is in a new world war and to say so.

Public opinion, Gingrich said, will change "the minute you use the language of World War III." He said the message then becomes, "OK, if we're in the third world war, which side do you think should win?"

Gingrich and other conservatives are trying to tie together the current Israeli invasion of Gaza and Lebanon with the ongoing conflicts the United States is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and the possibility of U.S.-led attacks on Iran and Syria.

You could argue that this is merely rebranding a failed foreign policy strategy nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. With Iraq's descent into civil war, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the failure to capture Osama bin Laden and the rest of the al-Qaida brain trust, the Republicans can't talk credibly about being successful in the war on terror.

But what if people can be persuaded that these are only the first battles of a long and arduous global war? What if they can be persuaded that this war will require great sacrifices from every American? And what if Americans can be convinced that only Republicans can be trusted to lead this nation to victory?

If this happens, the political dialogue totally changes. If Republicans can change the terms of debate and make it seem risky to elect Democrats in a time of total war, they will stay in power indefinitely.

We know that every thing that the Bush administration has done since 9/1l has been about political concerns rather than national security. And with the potential for a prolonged economic crisis and the probability of the GOP losing control of Congress in November, adopting the World War III tag would be ultimate trump card for the Republicans.

It would have the added bonus of reshaping American politics and providing the mental and emotional framework to silence all dissent against the Republican vision of total war.

The precedent for all this is the nation's experience in World War I. In the beginning, the United States stayed out of the war. Most Americans opposed entering what many thought was just an intramural struggle between European powers. A national consensus for going to war had to be created, and the government created that consensus with a massive propaganda campaign.

To neutralize dissenters, the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 were passed. They were used to imprison nearly 900 Americans who spoke or wrote against going to war. Those laws, by the way, are still on the books, and many of today's Republicans would like to revive their enforcement and go after critics of our current wars.

The World War I propaganda campaigns that whipped up a patriotic frenzy for war, combined with draconian laws to silence all dissent, provided a blueprint for future leaders to use whenever necessary.

I hope all this is just paranoid, worst case scenario speculation that never comes to pass. But the current administration has been masterful at manipulating fear for political gain. Backed into a corner without any other options, these men will do anything to stay in power. It is up to every one of us to keep them from doing it.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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