November 17, 2003, 3:00 P.M.
Two things about
Iraq have become obvious in the past fortnight. First, the concerted, well-organized and resourceful resistance to the occupation of Iraq is escalating, not abating. Second, the administration, recognizing just what a tar baby it has embraced, is now looking for an exit strategy that turns the whole mess over to somebody else before the 2004 general election.
The politics currently in play over Iraq are no different than the politics in play when Richard Nixon’s election team was rumored to have a back channel to Hanoi during the Paris peace talks. At that time, in mid-to-late 1968, the Johnson administration was contemplating a halt to bombing as a bargaining chip in the Paris peace talks. Nixon had run his campaign on a promise that he had a plan to end U.S. involvement, which he could only reveal after the election. Nixon wanted to delay the talks until he was elected so that he could put his own plan in play (and consequently detract from the Johnson administration/Humphrey plan). In short, presidential politics had a direct and profound influence on the then current and would-be administrations and their approach to the tar baby of their day: Viet Nam.
At first, the Bush administration professed an American resolve to stay the course and support "democracy" in Iraq. The current plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by mid-June 2004 envisions a U.S. abandonment of Iraq before the much-vaunted Iraqi constitution is even slated to be complete. The only reason for this abrupt and ill-conceived policy reversal is presidential politics. The President and his advisors know that the war is not going well in the streets, the hills and the villages of Iraq, and that it is going worse at home as the body count rises, and the apparent ability to win hearts and minds diminishes.
President Bush and his supporters want to win in 2004 and they want to win big. Four more years of the Bush administration will solidify "gains" in undermining programs for the poor and homeless, in undermining sound environmental policy, in protective legislation for the chemical, oil, drug and energy industries, and in undermining the civil liberties of all citizens; in short, the unwinding of our current system of government.
Two great commentaries that I recommend are Felix Rohatyn’s op-ed piece in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal entitled, "Free, Wealthy and Fair: The Role of Government in Making Capitalism Work" and Molly Ivin’s recent article on why Bush just doesn’t get what damage he and his cronies are causing for those of us who are not his millionaire buddies. I also suggest a piece entitled, "Who Are the American People?" that is published on my website, www.philpotonpolitics.com.
The problem for the democratic candidates, all of them, is that they lack any clear message of their own. Each candidate has attempted, to some degree, to manufacture a message, but none has found a message that can instill confidence or even hope in the vast majority of Americans. We have seen corruption in business, in government, and now in the center of capitalism itself, the stock market, sap the hope from the very backbone of this country: the middle class.
Unless a candidate can tell the "average" American how they are going to live the American dream, by giving more opportunity to their children than they themselves have, they have no chance of winning the election. Bush (and Rove) and strong because they give hope to the rich and powerful. They let corporations and industries know that they will be supported in their ability to grow and exploit the environment, the work force and the economy without fear of government regulation or oversight. Without the government to watch over them, greed and a lack of ethics and honor prevail. They prevail to the detriment of our country’s economic and political standing abroad, and they undermine confidence in our financial system. In case you haven’t noticed, this is a bad thing when you have a $500 billion trade deficit and when Asian banks own almost $700 billion in Treasury bonds.
The only issue standing between President Bush and re-election is the war. That little hurdle will be removed by the sweep of a pen, just like the Viet Nam war was ended (probably with about the same result). Iraq, and the soldiers who die there, look to be casualties of the political war at home, not just the shooting war in the streets of Baghdad.