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The broad outlines of the Bush re-election campaign strategy have begun to appear, and they present an ugly picture.
From now until next November, we can expect to have a series of dramatically named military actions in Iraq–and occasionally in Afghanistan perhaps–which will each be described as striking a "crippling blow" against the enemy (how many times can you cripple someone?).
We will have a raising and lowering of the color-coded terror alerts, designed to keep voters on edge.
And we will perhaps even have a conveniently spaced out series of arrests of key leaders of the terrorist movement, who will be trotted out (or whose dead bodies will be laid out) for the cameras, to be followed on each such occasion by a gloating President Bush, saying that the War on Terror is succeeding.
All this will be accomplished with the willing and able assistance of the media, which is hungry for ratings, and which, in order to get the dramatic scoops it wants, complete with visuals, will continue to avoid covering the war’s real stories–the SS-like assaults on Iraqi and Afghan civilians by U.S. troops, the wholesale violations of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, the mounting anger at the occupation among ordinary Iraqis, and the deepening demoralization of American troops.
The capture of Saddam Hussein, coming so suspiciously as it did at a point where Bush’s own poll numbers were hitting their post 9-11 nadir, may have been the kick-off of this campaign. It has already been suggested by some, including Congressman Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), that the capture of Iraq’s fallen dictator may have been orchestrated–that in fact U.S. military leaders knew exactly where Hussein was for some time and was just waiting for the order to go pick him up when it would do Bush the most good politically.
Certainly it defies belief that with over a hundred fifty thousand US and British troops in the country, with a $25 million ransom out there looking for a stoolie, and with hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Iraqis having a personal desire for revenge against him, that Hussein could have hidden successfully for almost a year.
Yet even if this conspiracy theory isn’t correct (and it would be hard to prove), it certainly appears that Hussein’s televised capture has provided the kickoff to this new campaign.
Next we have the latest highly-touted crackdown in the so-called Sunni Triangle, which features shoot-to-kill orders against unarmed demonstrators, Vietnam War-style assassination squads and fenced-in "strategic hamlets," Israeli-style buldozings of the homes of suspected guerrillas.
If the conspiracy theory of Hussein’s arrest proves correct, we can expect more public arrests, perhaps leading up to the October Surprise–the capture or killing of Osama Bin Laden.
Along the way, we can expect to see six to 10 more get-tough military campaigns which will kill and round up several hundred "suspected terrorists" in Iraq each time, and as well a series of heightened domestic alerts, perhaps culminating in a top-level red alert just before Election Day, a move which would allow the government to set up M-16-toting National Guard soldiers at voting booths–a wonderful way to remind the electorate to vote Republican.
It won’t matter that none of this will really affect what is actually happening in Iraq, where we can expect to see continued rebellion and chaos, and probably eventually civil war, and certainly increasing opposition to U.S. occupation. That will be a problem for the next administration, whoever it is. From this point on, the Bush administration will be focused mightily on November ’04.
A group of Democratic presidential candidates is playing right into this trap with a concerted attack on frontrunner Howard Dean, who is being portrayed by his opponents and their establishment backers as the reincarnation of both George McGovern and Michael Dukakis.
But explain why anyone, faced with Republican scare tactics, would vote for someone like John Kerry, Dick Gebhardt or Joe Lieberman–the unsung authors of this attack–if their main argument is, "We need to fight the war in Iraq and the War on Terror just like George Bush is doing, but we can do it better."
The only way to combat the Republican "Reichstag Fire" campaign strategy of terrorizing the electorate is to challenge it frontally, as Dennis Kucinich and, to a lesser extent, Howard Dean are doing, calling the administration’s bluff, explaining that the War in Iraq is a diversion and that a War on Terror is counterproductive and is about as likely to be successful at making the world or the U.S. a safer place as the War on Drugs was at making America drug-free.
Meanwhile, playing by Bush’s rules makes the Democrats, and indeed American democracy itself, particularly vulnerable to the possibility of another Al Qaeda attack on American soil. General Tommy Franks has warned recently that such an attack, if it were even partially successful, could spell the end of the Bill of Rights and of a 228-year-old experiment in American Democracy. Yet that dire prophesy, while quite credible, is only possible if the political leadership continues in advance to scare the American public into a quivering mass of irrationally spineless cowards ready to retreat into their bunkers at the first sound of a firecracker.
If Democratic leaders would instead start talking about the strength of the Constitution, the inviolability of the Bill of Rights, and the need to stand together in defense of American freedom and democracy in the face of those who oppose these traditions, any attack, should one come, would not be seen as reason to give it all up, but rather as a reason to rally to the defense of freedom.
For the sake of the ’04 election, but more importantly for the sake of American democracy, the Bush campaign of fear, deception and manipulation needs to be challenged directly. No Democrat who plays along with that game should be given a chance in the primaries.