Bush "bestriding the world"! gasped the BBC. "Buoyant Bush Wins Mandate for War"! announced the London Times, in clearly horrified tones. "World Braces for ‘Triumphant’ Bush" headlined UPI. "Bush’s hand on Iraq strengthened by GOP gains in Congress, likely UN approval of tough Resolution," the Associated Press matter-of-factly informed us. The day after the Democrats were crushed at the polls, the U.S. submitted the text of a new get-tough resolution to the United Nations Security Council and the President declared: "This time we mean it."
Can it be that the hubris of our foreign policy has been transferred to the President himself, who now believes he has a mandate for war in the Middle East? "The superpower you know," quipped BBC commentator Paul Reynolds, "now there is the superpresident." And to think that if a few thousand votes had gone the other way, the same people would now be kicking sand in his face.
To read this election as a referendum on the war is to ignore that Iraq, for the most part, was not an issue. Since Congress had already voted, at the insistence of Democrats as well as Republicans, and given the President what he wanted, the question had for all intents and purposes already been decided. Democrats spent most of their time talking about subsidizing prescription drugs and dodging the war question as assiduously as several of their Republican colleagues once dodged the draft. Speaking of which .
Down in Georgia, a sitting Democratic Senator who left several limbs on the battlefields of Vietnam lost out to a Republican chickenhawk who spent the Vietnam war chasing after co-eds and lounging around the pool. Georgia Republican congressman Saxby Chambliss ran a television ad that began with footage of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein:
Voiceover: "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead."
An unflattering photo of Max Cleland appears on the screen, and a skeptical voice warns us:
"Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead. But the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading."
Before we conclude that perhaps Lincoln should have let the South go, and good riddance to them although we might believe that on other grounds it’s important to ask: what worked? Cleland’s problem wasn’t his vote against the Iraq war, but his wholesale opposition to the President’s Homeland Defense concept without offering any immediate alternative. The Democrats, tied as they are to organized labor, had no choice but to champion the cause of the union bosses and insist on "workplace rights" for Home-def employees. Almost entirely a.w.o.l. on the Iraq attack issue, the Republicans wisely emphasized not only Homeland Security but also the need for a missile defense system. Support for the war was only implied in the GOP emphasis on support for the President personally.
The politicians can read the polls: indeed, they read little else. They see that support for this mindless and destructive war is dropping. While the organized antiwar movement as it is presently constituted isn’t likely to do anything but alienate middle class Americans, one can only note that there are no pro-war rallies. We don’t see a hundred-thousand Americans in the streets of Washington, and tens of thousands more across the country, demanding "war now!" Why is that?
While Republican politicians and their pet pundits may be contemptuous of antiwar rallies, no matter how many hundreds of thousands show up, one thing they do understand is the deeply-ingrained "isolationism" of the American people, rooted as it is in our history and the ideology of the Founding Fathers. No Republican member of Congress went back home, this election year, and campaigned on a platform of the conquest of the Middle East. None spoke of the need for an American Empire based on the old Roman model; none spoke of occupying Iraq (and surrounding territories) for decades, at a cost too fantastic to calculate.
I’ll let the pundits to my left agonize over the Democrats’ dilemma; let them point to the lack of leadership, the cowardice, and the ongoing neocon-ization of that party. Suffice to say that the fall of the hawkish Dick Gephardt is a bit of silver lining, but not enough to cheer anyone up.
This nonsense about Bush the "superpresident" is but the flattery of silver-tongued courtiers, foreigners mostly, who mix a generous dollop of contemptuous irony in with the sweetest phrases. Bush is no more a "superpresident" than the Roman emperor Claudius was a god. And perhaps even the ancient gods couldn’t pull off the logistical and diplomatic miracles that must occur before the U.S. can even consider invading and occupying Iraq.
Naturally, the neoconservative advisors to the President see no problem, and would do it tomorrow with a force of 50,000 or less, but the Pentagon and the officer corps are intransigently opposed and the President is no more likely to prevail against the U.S. military than is Saddam Hussein. So that is a big brake on the rush to war. Here’s another .
Recent developments in Turkey buttress the arguments of those who disapprove of this invasion scenario from a purely military perspective. There is considerable doubt whether the new Turkish government will allow U.S. forces to use their country as a launching pad for an invasion: the new ruling party, which swept practically all the other parties out of existence, has Islamic roots, and was banned by the militantly secularist Turkish military from running in previous elections.
This time, under the watchful eye of the European Union, the religious party got past the gate and left the secularists in the electoral dust. Not only is the basing question in doubt, now, but so is Turkey’s strategic and military alliance with Israel and that’s just in the first few days of their stunning victory.
Will the Turkish generals turn them out of power, as has happened in the past? Such a development would certainly ensure Turkey’s availability as a U.S. base and it may take that, in the end, to secure Turkish cooperation. Either that, or UN approval, in which case the Turks say they would relent. Otherwise, no invasion. For the Saudis have repeatedly ruled out the use of their territory, and only Kuwait and Bahrain, along with some of the other Trucial States, among Iraq’s neighbors, would even consider it.
So where is the invasion going to be launched from?
Here is a problem to stump even a "superpresident." We keep hearing how Bush has yet to make his final decision on whether to launch an attack, but the real question they’re debating is how to do it without invading and occupying the entire region at once. There are those in the administration and its political periphery who advocate just that, but this is something that the politicians prefer not to talk about even as they pursue policies that appear to make it inevitable.
If the President believes his courtiers, and comes to see himself as the superpresident of an invincible superpower, then the countdown to catastrophe has already begun. Surely better men than Dubya have fallen victim to this temptation. One could easily perhaps too easily conclude it’s only a matter of time before the great disaster unfolds. On the other hand, several important factors, aside from the problem of the launching pad, are intervening to delay or perhaps even indefinitely postpone the rush to war.
North Korea is looming larger as a crisis rivaling Iraq. Pyongyang has just informed the Japanese that the only alternative to normalized relations is more missile testing by North Korea. The last time the Koreans acted up they sent a missile hurtling over Nipponese airspace, as if to demonstrate the vulnerability of Japan’s cities. The kidnapping issue is also a big deal in that part of the world, and the horror of the sinister North Korean practice of abducting Japanese from their own island and hauling them away to Kim Jong-il‘s Communist ant-hill is hard to communicate or even fathom.
Speaking of the Japanese, they figure prominently in the other big problem facing this administration: a rapidly-unraveling economy. Japan’s banks belong to the Alan Greenspan school of economics. Their answer to every obstacle to unobstructed straight-line growth has been to speed up the printing presses and lower interest rates. The problem is they have reached the end of this particular road, with Japanese interest rates at zero, and must now endure a prolonged period of economic pain, or else see their entire banking system collapse. The catastrophic effects of such an implosion would be global in scope, and would almost certainly hit like a tsunami on American shores. The resulting crisis would seriously impede if not completely rule out spending enormous sums on a war of conquest.
The Republicans also have a political problem with this war. The Christian Coalition and Jerry Falwell’s flock have mobilized to support a rush to war that primarily benefits Israel, their theological Promised Land. These people were key to the GOP victory in Georgia, and elsewhere, and must be placated so Karl Rove and others believe at all costs. But a price will be paid. An invasion of Iraq is not likely to please economic conservatives, who will see their favorite planks in the Republican platform a permanent tax cut, the abolition of the estate tax, the de-empowerment of the federal government fall by the wayside as the war fever heats up. GOP strategists are contemptuous of this constituency, however: since when have economic conservatives organized to get out the Republican vote? The key to victory in every election is turnout, and that was true this time around in spades. Besides, they reckon, these guys have nowhere else to go.
But of course they do. The Democrats may be is disarray, but they aren’t going away any time soon. Suburban conservatives, socially liberal but concerned about the economy, are the key to Bush’s reelection, and his strategists know it. Do the Republicans really want to go into the 2004 election with 80,000 troops in Iraq, oil prices doubled, and regimes toppling like dominoes in the Middle East? I don’t think so.
Is war inevitable, now that the Republicans are firmly in the saddle? For all of the reasons stated above, and a few more we’ll get into in future columns, America’s fateful turn toward neo-imperialism can still be stopped, by acts of God, or men or, perhaps, God acting through men. In any case, nothing is inevitable, and don’t you forget it. There’s still time to stop this war before it starts.
Next Wednesday [November 13], I’m going to be Barry Farber‘s guest on WABC radio, at 9 pm (Pacific Time), talking about my recent Mother Jones article, which has gotten a lot of attention, and why it’s not too late to stop this war. Sparks are sure to fly, so don’t miss it.
My review of Michael Ledeen’s The War Against the Terror Masters is in the current [November 18] issue of The American Conservative. I had the privilege of being in the first issue, and I’ve the feeling I’ll be writing for them in the future. A lot of their stuff is not available online, however, so if you’re a fan of my work, you might as well subscribe there’s lots of other cool stuff in there, too. William Lind’s "Gulf War II: No Cakewalk," and John Laughland’s withering analysis of the Eurocrats’ totalitarian methods are two good reasons to check this one out, even if you just buy it on the newstands. (You say it’s not at your local Borders? Call them and ask for it.)
Anyway, I gotta go, because I just can’t wait to read Taki‘s take-down of Salman Rushdie .