Jewish World Review August 1, 2002 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In the Bush White House, the daily drumbeat of press criticism tempts policymakers and political advisors to fashion remedies to alleviate symptoms rather than to treat basic causes.
Fixing the noisy manifestation of political weakness often takes priority over taking bold action, often on another front, to restore political strength. The school of rapid-reaction and the war room psychology of damage control so occupy the president and his staff that there is little thinking about how to cope with the basic problems that allowed the current crisis to overshadow a presidency in the first place.
When President Bush declared war on international terror in the wake of Sept. 11, he fully mobilized the nation for bold and immediate action. As he carefully unfolded his war plan against the Talliban, he had America hanging on his every word and action. He proved fully equal to the task.
Then, in an even bolder departure, he used his State of the Union speech to identify the "axis of evil" that enabled terrorism to function and called for action to topple Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. He warned of his plans to develop weapons of mass destruction and warned against delay while Saddam's laboratories worked overtime to bring these nightmares into reality.
Americans followed him and believed him. They still do.
But in the weeks and months since that speech, Bush has done little to capitalize on the blank check Americans gave him that January night to proceed with his plans for Iraq.
Distracted by the Western European and moderate Arab line that a solution to the Palestinian problem had to come first, he seemed to have lost his way. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "The native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought and enterprises of great pith and moment lose the name of action."
The result of this failure to lead the national imagination has been a series of scandals-du-jour that distract Americans from the vital need to focus on the problems that the president articulated in his State of the Union address. Some of the scandals have no political implications - the Catholic priest revelations - and some have important ramifications, as, for example, the Wall Street scandal. But all come from a lack of national focus on the primary objective of winning the war caused by Bush's failure to act decisively and quickly to bring to fruition the plans he articulated in his speech.
Ever since the movie, "Wag the Dog," came out, its central premise - that presidents might use war to win an election - has influenced public opinion, journalistic commentary, and even executive and military decisionmaking. Now, as the question looms of U.S. action against Iraq before the November elections, this cinematic make-believe has penetrated ever deeper into policy discussions.
But there is a vast difference between starting a war to win an election and not postponing one which could help to lose an election. The Bush administration has more than amply laid the groundwork for swift action against Baghdad. Americans have been waiting for 15 years to finish the job Bush's father started in 1991.
Were Bush to begin his actual military preparations for war with Saddam in September and October, what are Democrats to say? Democrats will choose silence for lack of any better position should Bush attack Iraq.
To condemn the attack would be to make admissible in the fall elections Bush's war on terror, with disastrous results for the party's chances. Can a Democratic candidate really go public and complain that Bush is doing something the people want done but is doing it 60 days too soon and thereby endangering his seat?
White House decision makers would do well to ignore the issue of wagging the
dog and focus instead on the national need to take seriously and act quickly to
address the dire warnings Bush gave to a breathless nation six months ago. To
politicians, it is three months before the election. To Americans, it is 10
months after Sept. 11.
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07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems