Friday | August 22, 2003
Foreign policy will harm Bush
How long have I been saying Foreign Policy would not be a winner issue for Bush in 2004? Since before the Iraq War, at least. Now, the big guys are finally starting to figure that out.
Both Republican and Democratic strategists have begun adjusting their plans for what they once viewed as unthinkable: that Bush's handling of national security in general, and the war in Iraq in particular, could become a vulnerability rather than an asset in his reelection race.
One presidential adviser said the suicide attacks hours apart in Iraq and Israel, which undermined the two anchors of Bush's ambitious effort to transform the Middle East, made Tuesday "by far the worst political day for Bush since 9/11." [...]
Still, after this week's violence, several Republican officials said they are rethinking calculations that Bush's vulnerability is the economy. "A couple of months ago, everyone believed national security was the president's trump card," said one Republican with ties to the White House. "Now, we could be in a position where the economy is growing very nicely, well in advance of the election, and the vulnerability could be on the national security side."
Independent experts see more political trouble than advantage for Bush in Iraq. "There is a substantial potential for the occupation of Iraq to become a deep political problem for Bush," according to Ohio State University's John Mueller, an authority on public opinion and war. If things go well, people will lose interest, but if things go badly, "people are increasingly likely to see the war as a mistake, and starting and continuing wars that people come to consider mistaken does not enhance a president's reelectability."
The matter is politically important to Bush because he has made the peaceful transformation of the Middle East the main justification for war in Iraq. With the failure to find forbidden weapons in Iraq, Bush and his aides have said the invasion of Iraq will allow it to become the linchpin of a stable and democratic Middle East. In one version of this argument, Bush said last week that in deciding to go to war in Iraq, he made "a tough decision to make the world more peaceful." As a result, continued violence in Iraq and the Middle East would deprive the administration of another key justification for the war.
The mess in Iraq was easily predictable as early as last year, when war talk first sprung up. PNAC arguments that a friendly Iraq would reshape the entire region were laughably absurd (an Israel-friendly Iraqi government wouldn't survive a week). And it's been clear for a long time that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are genuinely interested in peace, addicted as they are to the cycle of tit-for-that violence.
The body count continues to rise (something curiously omitted by the article), which will spur continued and impassioned opposition to Bush's handling of the war. Also omitted -- the increasing costs of the occupation as our national infrastructure demands massive investments.
The real question is not whether Bush can use national security to his advantage, it's whether Democrats can use it to their advantage. This isn't about "neutralizing" the issue, it's about turning it on its head and wielding it as a weapon against Bush. We have the material to work with. It's a question of using it.
(And without National Security, what does Bush run on?)
Posted August 22, 2003 09:08 AM | Comments (126)