Still the Economy, Stupid

George W. Bush went on TV last night to explain why we need to invade Iraq to replace Saddam Hussein, as polls continue to show wobbly public support for his big adventure.

W's White House has set up the mother of all wedge issues as it proposed -- seemingly out of the blue -- a pre-emptive war against Saddam and his purported "weapons of mass destruction." Some Left groups reacted predictably, opposing any war against Iraq, while some Right groups, just as predictably, endorsed Bush's call for unlimited authority to wage war in the Middle East or whereever his prejudices take him. It looked like White House political director Karl Rove's much-publicized "Wag the Dog" strategy was working as congressional Democrats split over whether to fight Bush's war resolution or get it over quickly so they could get back to the upcoming mid-term election.

Nearly everyone agrees that Saddam is a terrible dictator but moderate voices questioned the need for a pre-emptive strike and asked what threat Saddam really poses to the US, why the war is needed at this time, how much it would cost in military personnel and expenses, what trouble would it cause for Iraq's neighbors and what sort of international alliance can we count upon? Bush's inability to adequately answer any of these questions, and the political nature of the timing, coming weeks before the mid-term elections, should give congressional leaders cause to scuttle Bush's request at least until he can come back with a consensus from the UN Security Council.

It's obvious to us that Bush is promoting war as a distraction from the economic problems at home, and we think it's obvious to the American electorate as well, but so far leading Democrats, with the exception of Al Gore, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and a few other members of Congress, have been reluctant to call Bush on it. [As this went to press, Congress pass a watered-down resolution authorizing use of force with the hope that the US can get some allies to sign on.]

Our skepticism is reinforced by Eric Bohlert's analysis on Salon.com Oct. 7 that the White House is selling the war in much the same way it sold the 2001 tax cut.

"Both campaigns have featured rationales that seem to shift with the political wind," Bohlert wrote. "Both have sought to fan public fears in order to galvanize public support. They have been built around simplistic panaceas, a liberal dose of misinformation and raw power politics. ...

"One difference: The war against Iraq still remains uncertain, but economists say the effects of the trillion-dollar tax cuts are plain to see. Which raises the question: Could Bush's tax cuts, the cornerstone of his domestic agenda, serve as a preview of Bush's foreign policy imperative to invade Iraq? Last year Bush and his team assured Americans that the $1.6 trillion tax cut would provide a much-needed boost to the economy. Instead, the economy continues to perform poorly -- so poorly that Bush doesn't even want to talk about it publicly, let alone address specific problems. What if administration hawks, who insist regime-changing in Iraq will be among the easiest military incursions of the last half-century, turn out to be just as off-key? ..."

"[The] White House [insisted] that there was enough money to cover the tax cuts without endangering other programs, and that the "typical" family would pocket $1,600, when in fact families making between $30,000 and $40,000 would earn just $616. The administration denied the tax cuts would go mainly to the very, very wealthy, even though most analysts said that's exactly what would happen. And it tried to sell the cut as a short-term stimulus package to ward off a recession, even though most of the cuts were backloaded and would not go into effect for years. (That was done in order to keep the size of the tax cut down initially and minimize the debate.)

"That same proclivity has been on full display in recent weeks as the White House gears up for war. Last month, Bush told reporters that an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) study had concluded Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was 'six months' away from obtaining nuclear capabilities. 'I don't know what more evidence we need,' concluded Bush. Yet the IAEA never issued any such report with those findings about Iraq.

"Weeks earlier, the administration shared with the New York Times -- and then played up on Sunday talk shows -- a story about how Iraq had been caught trying to obtain specially designed aluminum tubes to help produce weapons-grade uranium. In a mocking editorial titled, 'You Call That Evidence?' the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists suggested that if Iraq was buying the tubes, it proves Saddam is essentially starting his nuclear bomb-building campaign from scratch and is even further behind than previously believed."

The White House had no backup plan in case the tax cuts didn't jump-start the economy -- and the tax cuts have failed. Now the Bushites apparently don't have a backup plan in case a democratic movement does not materialize to place Iraq in the ranks of responsible nations as a bulwark against terrorism once Saddam is removed from power. Nor does the White House address how it can invade Iraq without helping Osama bin Laden and his friends recruit more Islamic terrorists.

Charlie Cook of The National Journal faults the Democrats for sitting back and waiting for economic woes and statistics to beat Republicans. "Economic concerns alone will not sink Republicans in this election, but doubts about the administration's economic policies could," he wrote. Cook noted a new CBS News/New York Times poll that showed that 69% of respondents, including 65% of independents and 51% of Republicans, believe Bush should be spending more time on the economy.

Of course a big part of the problem is that even when Democrats try to talk about the economy, they are overshadowed in the news media by news of Bush's war plans. But when Bush traveled to New York and addressed the UN, Cook said Senate Democrats may have missed an opportunity to vote a resolution supporting the president pursuing a multilateral, UN-backed approach to getting inspectors into Iraq -- just as French President Jacques Chirac had suggested weeks earlier. "For one brief shining moment, Democrats could have been 'for' something and backed the president, knowing full well that he would eventually stray back onto his go-it-alone approach that has considerably less support among voters," Cook wrote. "But did they do it? Noooooo."

We're not positive that Senate Democrats could have managed to pass such a resolution, given the obstructionism of Republicans who set up the Iraq confrontation two months before the election in order to put the Democrats on the spot. The GOP is playing a cynical game and we hope the voting public sees through it. We think they will.

Don't give up

Pollster Dick Morris says polls have become unreliable because so many people have opted to block telemarketing calls, including public opinion surveys, that the results are skewed [see Dispatches, page 12]. If so, it is all the more important that progressives not only get out to vote Nov. 5, even if your local progressive candidate is trailing in the polls. And see that your friends, neighbors and family vote.

As Ralph Nader writes on page 19, we should not let Democrats or Republicans sweep corporate crime under the rug. One accounting reform bill enacted does not clean up Wall Street. Keep the heat on Congress for systematic reforms to make corporations accountable. See www.citizenworks.org and www.democracyrising.com for details. &endash; JMC

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