Wednesday, October 20, 2004


The partisans: Bush's "Catastrophic success"

How can anyone believe Bush will make our country safer?

[Part III of IV]

Bush's characterization of the first phase of the Iraq was as a "catastrophic success"
pretty much sums up his administration's position on Iraq. One has to deny reality to view catastrophe as successful, but it seems like a lot of people who are voting for Bush are doing this.

Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, went on The Daily Show the other night and said that although he disagrees with virtually everything the Bush administration has done and will do on domestic policy, he is supporting Bush because the war on terror trumps everything, and Bush will make the country safer. I suspect a lot of people voting for Bush feel the same way – even if they don't give Bush a "zero" scorecard on domestic policy, they are voting for him despite some awareness that his policies run against their interests and beliefs on most issues.

Ironically, the "single-issue" voters who support Bush because of his stand on abortion are far more in touch with reality than single issue voters like Ed Koch who support Bush because of national security. Bush will in fact do a lot to advance the agenda of the right-to-lifers if he gets a second term.

But the idea that Bush has made and will make the country safer has to ignore so many facts that you have to wonder exactly how Bush's "national security" supporters do the hard work of profound denial. Let's review:

1) The worst attack on U.S. soil by a foreign enemy in our history occurred while Bush was president. While you can quarrel over how much of the blame can be laid on Bush for a surprise attack, it is well-documented that counter-terrorism was a low priority for the Bush administration before 9/11. Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of the Bush campaign does this become a plus for "w" on national security.

2) The Bush administration opposed the department of Homeland Security before 9/11, and has underfunded it since. The color-coded security alerts are a joke that the Bush administration uses politically to distract the public from news items unfavorable to the administration.

3) Osama bin Laden got away in Afghanistan.

4) The Bush administration invaded Iraq adhering to Donald Rumsfeld's philosophy of "lean and mean" military operations. Riding roughshod over military experts by invading Iraq with inadequate numbers of troops and – we now know – inadequate supplies, the administration is responsible for botching the Iraq campaign, providing insufficient military forces to seal the Iraq borders, thus allowing terrorists to cross over and organize the current resistance. There was no plan to win the peace other than hopeful "best-case" assumptions about Iraqi's welcoming us as liberators. And, of course, Bush led the government in imposing the first tax cut during wartime in U.S. history. (Support our troops!)

5) Bush backers brag about the fact that there has been no terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Yet the administration is constantly predicting a new attack at any time without warning, they've botched counter-terrorism prosecutions, and they've taken 180,000 American troops and made them targets of opportunity for terrorists closer to where the terrorists live, in Iraq.

6) The other two thirds of the "evil empire" (remember that one?), Iran and North Korea, have moved ahead in their nuclear weapons programs, while the availability to terrorists and criminals of unsecured nuclear weapons material in Russia is getting out of control.

7) The "Bush Doctrine" of attacking countries that harbor terrorists has overextended the U.S. military to the point of being unable to respond to other crises that might arise around the world by attacking just two countries, one of which had no demonstrable connection to al Queda before the invasion.

8) Bush's relationship with the banking industry has, and will continue to impede a Bush administration from seeking reforms that could stop terrorists from using international banking system to fund their activities.

And on and on...

Bush partisans don't have credible arguments to explain away these facts. What seems to be going on is a combination of two related maladies of the U.S. presidential selection system. One is the susceptibility of many, perhaps most voters, to the kind of irrational, affective opinion formation that advertizers rely on. Bush is marketed as tough by a sophisticated tending of his public image – there's that southern accent again! – and many people by it.

A second factor is that the electorate seems to be hard-wired to believe that Republican administrations are tougher on national defense than democratic ones. Again, it doesn't matter what the facts are. Historically, if it is even meaningful to generalize about the parties in this way, there is no reason to believe that Republican administrations provide better war leadership than Democratic ones. In the run up to World War II, the Republican party was predominantly isolationist and fought U.S. rearmament tooth and nail. The Reagan administration is famous for massive military spending, but there is not strong evidence that this arms buildup made the country more secure, and its alleged contribution to the collapse of the Soviet Union is highly debatable.

The second factor is a variant of the first. There's a kind of irrational emotional association of ideas: national security and the Republican party. Republicans are somewhat (only somewhat) more likely than Democrats to run national "tough on crime" campaigns, and they are somewhat more willing than Democrats to allow security agencies to trample civil liberties, but there is little basis to see any real correlation between these tendencies and security.

At the end of the day it's just a substitute for thinking about issues.

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