All: To war, to war, to war we’re gonna go!
The Four Marx Brothers: Oh, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de-ho.
All: ;Oh, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de-ho.
The Four Marx Brothers: They got guns,We got guns,
All God’s chillun got guns.
Oh doncha cry for me,
Coz I’m comin’ round the mountain
With a banjo on my knee.
Lyrics from “It’s War!” from the Marx Brothers’ Film “Duck Soup”
On September 17, 2002 Saddam Hussein appeared to back down. Iraq sent a letter to the United Nations suggesting it would admit UN Weapons Inspectors to Iraq without preconditions. On September 18, they began to backpeddle, suggesting that “Iraq’s sovereignty must be protected” and that “the inspectors could not be spies.” They probably heard Russia, France and China’s sigh of relief from clear across the Euphrates. Three Security Council members had been satisfied, and made sure everybody in the World knew it. Of course they were talking to the Bush Administration, trying to make the point that invading now would not be acceptable. Face had been saved. But Saddam was listening too, and promptly began his usual weaseling game.
Trouble is, George W. Bush doesn’t much care what anybody thinks. On September 19, he sent a draft resolution to Congress, that would authorize the Bush Administration to conduct a war against Iraq.
Firefly: In case you haven’t heard before
I think they think we’re going to war
I think they think we’re going to war
All: We’re going to war!
Facing a draft resolution authorizing war now is the last thing Democratic leader Tom Daschle wanted. War declarations are supposed to be times of sober contemplation, where America’s wise and gray consider the proper course for our nation. Except that 2002 is an election year, and control of the Congress is up for grabs. Everyone realized how important that is, including the President. The Democrats would like to talk about the economy, which ought to be a good issue for them. In only two years the Bush Administration has managed to completely erase the surplus so large that people were actually worried about paying off the national debt too quickly, and replaced it with a deficit that will exceed $220 billion this year with more to come. In fiscal responsibility, George jr, has indeed shown he’s a chip off the ol’ block. And the Bush Administration came in arguing that the corporate model, and business executives were the right people to run things, not some faceless bureaucrat. Why W. Went and asked his old buddy Kenneth Lay to help out, vetting potential White House appointees. Only Enron was the first in a series big corporate scandal. Suddenly the ‘corporate model’ looked more like something out of Robocop, with execs covering their asses while floating down golden parachutes larger than the GNP of Afghanistan.
The Democrats think they have a good issue in the economy. So does George W. Bush, who may not understand foreign policy, but does know political tactics. War talk with Iraq has completely swept Enron and Arthur Anderson from the headlines. Who cares about deficits when commentators are debating whether or not the troops will find themselves attacked by nerve gas. Lets face it, bombs are a lot sexier than ledger sheets. And war really is more important than Enron, at least if it’s a big war. Plus, the President’s response to September 11 won him a lot of credit. Polls show that most Americans think that neither he nor the Republican Party capable of managing the economy. But they do think he knows how to run a War on Terror, even if the Bill of Rights is taking a severe trampling. By moving the debate toward war and security, Bush takes the debate where he is strong, and away from Democratic strength.
A few pundits had noticed this. Conservative commentator Matt Miller noted on a September 18 NPR essay that cynic might think this was all being orchestrated for political effect. That Bush would allow the UN and peace a chance for a year or so, then bring up the war talk when he himself was up for re-election. Even I’m not that cynical, at least not yet, but Iraq plays well for the Bush Administration, and it plays best for him before the election. Here’s why.
Everyone knows that the Democratic Leadership is cool to the idea of war with Iraq, and not just because they want to talk about the economy. Many Republicans as well aren’t convinced that war is a good idea, after all it’s an expensive messy business that will make the deficits worse and piss off most everyone in the Middle East. Most people in Washington, including the CIA, think Saddam is nowhere near as large a threat as the Bush Administration is painting him. But the Bush Administration has its own intelligence analysts, a group of neo-conservatives who base their analysis on former Iraqi defectors. These defectors tell horrific stories of bio weapons and Iraq standing on the very doorstep of the Nuclear clubhouse.
The CIA by and large doesn’t believe these people, because they were recruited by the Iraqi opposition. The CIA thinks these people were coached to say exactly what the Bush Administration wants to hear, and lets face it nightmare scenarios are the things most likely to get the US to do what the weak and fragmented opposition wants. By and large the Intelligence committees of the Congress take the CIA’s point of view, because they also get briefed by the CIA and hear essentially the same stuff as the President. Republicans are more or less bound to follow their President, particularly with the strong hierarchical party discipline established under Newt Gingrich. But Democrats are not. They don’t buy what the Bush Administration is selling.
On the other hand, they do have to be careful. The President’s popularity, particularly on security topics, forces them to tread carefully. If Bush’s poll figures were down in the thirty percent range, they’d be blasting away at him with both barrels and tell him to go to hell. Instead, they doing what Republican moderates are doing, asking pointed questions like “Where is this new intelligence?”, “What will happen in the Arab world if we invade?” and “What do you plan to do once Saddam has been deposed?”
Trouble is, Joe Sixpack isn’t paying much attention to such pointed niceties. Most Americans watch a half hour of Fox News before watching Vanna turn letters. That’s the source of their world view, that and Budweiser commercials. In a way you can’t blame them, the news is usually depressing and Vanna White looks a lot better in a tight dress than the Gaza Strip. What they have seen is Iraqi diplomats making threats and belligerent statements for the past few years. Americans are very well aware of all the trouble Saddam made for the previous weapons inspectors. They see it as a direct challenge to their country, and by extension, to themselves. By and large, Joe Sixpack thinks Saddam an arrogant bully, well deserving of a good old fashioned ass whuppin’. And Joe Sixpack is right on this point. But saying someone deserves to have their clock cleaned is one thing, dealing with the cost and consequences of such housekeeping is something else. Consequences and complexities are not something most people pay attention to unless forced. And Bush has made good use of the Bully Pulpit, repeating again and again the Holy Mantra of Saddam as th World's Biggest threat.
In politics, the most important thing is to find a simple, understandable message and stay on message, no matter what. Bush is very good at this, as is his team. The Democrats are trying to stay on message, but their message is subtle rather than simple, and war is hard message to ignore.
Democratic leaders Daschle and Gephardt have stated repeatedly that are willing to consider an resolution, but would like to do it after the election. They argue that Iraq can wait, and shouldn’t such an important issue be debated without the pressure of election year politics hanging over Congressional heads. They know the election is likely to push the Congress toward war, rather than against it.
Polls show that most Americans support war with Iraq. The support may not run very deep, and I suspect it does not, but it is widespread. Anyone, particularly a Democrat, who votes against the war can expect to face a lot of criticism for ‘supporting terrorism’ in advance of the elections. I imagine full color commercials with montages of brave fire fighters carrying off wounded children, the Twin Towers falling and then a picture of Representative Peacenik next to a picture of Saddam Hussein, with a sober commentator noting that “Joe Peacenik refused to support our President in his battle against terror." Hell they might even splice in a mushroom cloud to pound home the point. Given the two or three to one financial advantages enjoyed by Republicans, Democrats voting against war can expect that their constituents will see a lot of brave fire fighters and rising mushroom clouds during the run up to the election. None of the potential disadvantages of war are likely to become evident before the election. Joe Sixpack is quite capable of reconsidering, but only when his TV screens are full of reasons to reconsider. That won’t happen in 2002.
There is another issue. No Democrat, no matter how liberal, likes or trusts Saddam Hussein. Voting against war may actually encourage Saddam to return to his old harassment and denial games sooner rather than later. In an odd sense, it may be that a vote against war may make it more likely.
By forcing the issue now, George W. Bush has put Tom Daschle between a rock and a hard place. Support Bush’s War against Iraq, and maybe win both houses Congress. Or oppose war and risk losing the Senate, which would clear the way for the President’s far right agenda. With Bush probably going ahead and starting the war anyway and forcing Congress to just deal with it.
Boy, I’m glad I’m not Tom Daschle.
This is a fact we can’t ignore!
We’re going to war!