“This battle will take time and resolve. But make no mistake about it: we will win.”
– George W. Bush, September 12, 2001
“Can we win the war on terror? I don’t think you can win it.” – Bush, August 31, 2004
The war in Iraq is part of the “war on terra.” You’re either with us, Republicans, or with the terrorists. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And count on us to deliver you from fear – somewhat. Fear not what you can do to support us, fear for the world if you don’t.
This, in essence, is the Republican platform for “four more years” of the president of permanent war. A slightly milder, softer version is being sold by the Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York this week via party moderates such as Senator John McCain, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and the California Gubernator. Warning: what you see is not what you get. These party moderates will vanish as soon as the convention is over, because as much as KBR is a subsidiary of Halliburton, the real Grand Old Party (GOP) nowadays is a subsidiary of Bush-Cheney ’04, its platform micro-managed by an ultra-authoritarian White House and the Republican campaign “war room” in Virginia.
Pre-packaged, sanitized, make-believe, Wizard of Oz America is now being enacted inside Madison Square Garden at the RNC just after another part of America – in the form of half a million New Yorkers – roared in the streets this Sunday to express their yearning for regime change in Washington. This was probably the largest political – and peaceful – demonstration in New York for decades, and all but preempted any message emanating from the convention. And just like in February 15, 2003 – when more than 10 million people around the world marched against the war on Iraq – civil society fell victim once again to a double whammy: the criminalization of protest and dissent in the US coupled with vast disinformation by US corporate media. According to this twisted logic, any reasoned criticism of the Bush administration is labeled as “Bush bashing,” without the thrust of the argument even being considered.
Najaf doesn’t make it to New York
The Bush administration badly needed a Najaf “victory” to spin at the RNC. At the first siege of Najaf, in April, General Mark Kimmitt was emphatic, “[Muqtada] al-Sadr must be killed or captured.” He was not – as he was not, again, last week. Winning “hearts and minds” in Iraq was never part of the Bush administration’s plan. The sieges of both Fallujah and Najaf suggest neo-colonial repression to any form of indigenous resistance.
Once again, like clockwork, the Bush administration was defeated in Najaf. No amount of spinning will raise the US profile in Iraq and the Arab world after Najaf’s old city and sacred burial grounds were practically reduced to rubble. The US-imposed Iyad Allawi government’s credibility is in shambles. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reasserted his moral authority big-time – adding impeccable Iraqi nationalist credentials to his profile as a moderate who wants the end of the occupation. And Muqtada – who has already humiliated former proconsul L Paul Bremer, not to mention Allawi – is free to continue his own brand of resistance: his Mahdi Army of urban, disfranchised, Shi’ite lumpenproletariat remains ready to roll.
The 1,000th US soldier will die very soon in Iraq. For the Bush administration these poor Americans fighting a dubious war to pay for their college tuition simply don’t exist: no wonder New Yorkers told Asia Times Online contributor Tom Engelhardt (Voices from the march to nowhere, August 31) the most powerful message on Sunday’s march was the 1,000-coffin protest, the carefully assembled cardboard copies carried by volunteers and solemnly draped with the US flag.
On the internal front, the enormous Republican advantage in fundraising disappeared as the campaign of Democratic rival John Kerry is also awash in donations. The economic recovery is a myth. Jobs are disappearing by the hundreds of thousands. Bush is in serious danger in the crucial swing states. Ohio – 250,000 lost jobs – is swinging pro-Kerry by 9%. Florida is swinging pro-Kerry by 6%. Pennsylvania, with its huge Boeing plant in the Ridley Park suburb of Philadelphia, is also swinging pro-Kerry. Analysts point to 2.6 million undecided voters nationwide – which both parties may have identified almost to a man and woman. But as Ruy Teixeira of the Emerging Democratic Majority suggests, the recent surge in Bush’s numbers may have more to do with more undecideds than with increased support for the president.
How Bush gets away with it
Who are these people in New York? Sixty-three percent declare themselves conservative (compared with 57% of Republicans on a national basis). Two-thirds are Protestant (compared with 54% nationally). Thirty-three percent are evangelicals (compared with 27% at the 2000 convention). Forty-five percent are gun owners. The convention is not preaching to this pretty regressive bunch of converts, for most of whom New York is worse than Sodom. By using entertainment to market – and soften – the really regressive Bush-Cheney ’04 agenda, it is trying, as corporate media insist, to “reach out” to many Republicans – and even some Democrats – who simply can’t swallow the whole platform.
Three cinemas in New York are currently showing Bush’s Brain, a documentary based on the homonymous book by James Moore and Wayne Slater, head of the Dallas Morning News office in Austin, Texas. The thesis of both book and film is that Karl Rove, the Republican Machiavelli-in-charge, is the co-president of the US: trade policy, fiscal policy, social policies, environment, education, foreign policy and war, everything is dictated by the ultimate Rovian imperative – to win the next election.
So the question switches to how to counteract Rove’s dirty tricks. Rove’s consummate tactic is always to find and place surrogates to lie for him and for Bush – a lie often related to a divisive cultural issue. As in the Swift Boat smear campaign against John Kerry’s record in Vietnam, if the lie gets to Bush, the president can always get away with it, by “comforting” Kerry for example, but without ever explicitly condemning the smear. If the Democrats decided to pull a Rove and start applying the same mechanism to Bush – attacking his perceived strength (the tough, anti-terror guy) and not his many weaknesses – the effects could be devastating.
The real Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign strategy is not, and could never be, on show in New York. Its main “themes” are fear and character assassination: fear in the form of perennially evoking the “war on terra,” and character assassination like the Swift Boat smear campaign. The strategy aims to brainwash and polarize voters relentlessly with a barrage of lies and caricature. And it involves never, ever talking about the Iraq quagmire (best slogan in the New York march: “Quagmire Accomplished”), unless to tie it up with the “war on terra.” Many Americans are smart enough not to fall into this trap: according to the latest Gallup poll, Kerry is now more trusted to handle Iraq (48%) than Bush (47%) – even considering the fact that still nobody knows exactly what Kerry would do.
As much as corporate media insist New York “is not America”, the Sunday mass protest once again underlined the total failure of the twin pillars of Bush’s record – the economy and especially the “war on terra.”
The Sunni Iraqi resistance controls the major cities in the Sunni triangle and is able to sabotage pipelines at will. Nobody is even dreaming of investing in Iraq. Unemployment is close to 70%. Muqtada is a nationalist leader with popular legitimacy who can cause endless trouble to the illegitimate US-appointed government.
The Taliban control at least 40% of Afghanistan – and warlords control the rest. As a New Yorker puts it: “The Taliban are killing people in Afghanistan? Again? That’s soooooo 2001 …” US-installed Hamid Karzai may win October’s presidential election, but he will control little else apart from his own chair, as the joke in Kabul goes. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, these figures were not “smoked out” as promised, so they were completely erased from the Bush administration spinning machine – as Iraq is being erased by complicit corporate media. Opium-poppy cultivation is the rage in Afghanistan – its heroin back with a vengeance in Western Europe. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are under martial law. Their governments can only survive because they are protected by US troops – and mercenaries. “Democracy,” anyone?
Who cares? In God – and terror – we trust to keep us indefinitely in power.