“We will export death and violence to the four corners of the Earth in defense of our great nation.”
– George W. Bush in Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack

It all boils down to Iraq. Will the majority of Americans reject George W. Bush because of his defining moment – launching an indefensible preemptive war?

No matter what happens on election day – or days or weeks if the multibillion-dollar special again goes to the Supreme Court – the fact is that at least half of the nation, and the majority of its cultural and intellectual elite, has already rejected Bush as a divider, not a uniter, someone who did not even have a popular mandate to begin with.

The choice now is stark, between faith-based domination and rational leadership; between a messianic cult backed by vast corporate power and the “reality-based community.” For the Bush administration, power creates reality – and hubris is an alien concept. It’s a non-reality-based paradigm, as a senior Bush official told the New York Times: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality … we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Studying what they do

In late spring and early summer, Asia Times Online crisscrossed the US on the road. At the time – during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, before the party conventions – the United States was a 45%-45% country, with 10% undecided. Now it’s roughly a 48%-48% country, with 4% undecided. What we saw was an extraordinary gulf between the little man – the working guy living in a dreary outer suburb surrounded by malls, fast-food joints and churches – and the so-called liberal elite (those “debased, atheist homosexuals who drink Bordeaux”).

In a nutshell, we saw support for the Karl Rove-packaged, tough-talking, shoot-from-the-hip Bush in the red (Republican) states as a powerful expression of resentment toward the elite, a sentiment masterfully capitalized on by the Republican machine. Thus the Christian evangelist, God-fearing, anti-gun-control, anti-abortion, anti-stem-cell-research and anti-United Nations crusading armies defending true “American values.” Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky or Mao Zedong never thought about this: working-class masses supporting a political party that lavishes tax cuts on the wealthiest 1% of the population and that is fully committed to destroying the civil institutions that support the working class.

These Bush-voting armies consider themselves under siege, are fiercely anti-intellectual (like the president himself) and in essence anti-modern. So no wonder this translates into a very ugly, aggressive brand of American nationalism. The “other” – especially the foreign Muslim other – is the ultimate enemy. The Bush administration’s response to September 11, 2001, was a “war on terror,” a misguided tactic (war) against a concept (terrorism). But the concept of “war on terror” was brilliant – because it inextricably linked this ugly, Bible-quoting American nationalism to the Republican agenda.

Thus Bush’s mantra that there cannot be another commander in chief apart from himself: after all, he’s on a mission from God. Thus his appeal to an “al-Qaeda” (base) of millions of believers who await the day of “rapture” when Jesus will come back to Earth and kill everyone in sight – except them. Bush’s trademark hostility toward the factual world just mirrors the cognitive dissonance of the crusading God-fearing armies: no wonder the Bush administration lives in fantasyland.

If John Kerry wins, he may have the bulk of progressive America on his side: workers in the knowledge economy, most of the women’s vote, most of the Hispanic vote, most of the black vote, the majority of the 18-to-30 vote, a good slice of the working-class vote and yes, most of the dreaded Bordeaux-sipping cultural elite. But will it be enough to prevail over the crusading, God-fearing armies?

What kind of election is this?

This is no national election: these are 51 separate state elections (including Washington, DC). They are not exactly 100% democratic because they are indirect elections. This means that for dozens of millions of voters in, say, almost 40 states, it doesn’t matter what they say or do. The voters who really elect the president are in the swing states: roughly Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Of all six final national polls, Bush leads in four by a maximum margin of 3 percentage points and Kerry leads in two by a maximum margin of 2. Bush has an average support of 47.9%, which is really bad for an incumbent president. Much more revealing are the polls Fox News has released every day since Friday. These are the results: Friday, Bush +5; Saturday, Bush +2; Sunday, tied; Monday, Kerry +2. One week ago, Bush was 14 points ahead of Kerry on handling Iraq; now there’s no margin. He was 22 points ahead on handling terrorism; now the margin has fallen to 11.

Osama bin Laden’s spectacular irruption as the third party in the election might have benefited Bush by reinforcing the atmosphere of fear; but voters seem to be more annoyed by the fact bin Laden is still very much alive and kicking. The fact that Bush outsourced the Afghan war and took the eye off the ball to switch to Iraq (How Bush blew it in Tora Bora, Asia Times Online, October 27) is a story that won’t go away – although corporate media largely ignore it: Mike Kasper of the website topdog04.com has an excellent Tora Bora-Iraq planning timeline. And Asia Times Online readers are also alerting that unlike the Bush administration spin, bin Laden did not threaten new attacks against the US: a correct, full transcript of his speech can be found at the al-Jazeera website.

It’s fair to assume an enormous turnout in this election. In 2000, only 111 million of 203 million eligible voters showed up at the polling booths (55%). Now many polls expect a turnout of at least 120 million. Bitter accusations are flying of a concerted, nationwide Republican voter suppression campaign in predominantly black neighborhoods. But the Republican polling firm of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates has already concluded that if Kerry gets out the black vote, the election is in the bag; according to their polls, Kerry may be ahead by 5% overall in all swing states.

A vote to bury the neo-cons

Because the stakes are so high, this is a world election by any means. Americans may be polarized by a rather silly question: do you like or hate the other guy? The rest of the world has already decided. A recent poll by GlobeScan and the University of Maryland of 35 countries around the world found that in 30, a majority or plurality favored Kerry: on average, Kerry won by more than 2-1. Even the Financial Times and The Economist – conservative establishment’s Bibles – have voted Kerry: this in essence means that Bush is bad for business, as George Soros would also attest.

According to a poll by Der Spiegel, 79% of Germans would vote for Kerry. The website of Spain’s El Mundo has been urging its Hispanic readers in the US to vote for Kerry. Carlos Fuentes, a leading Mexican novelist and a great admirer of the United States, laments that under Bush it became “an incompetent hyperpower, incapable, like Frankenstein, of controlling the monsters it has protected in the past – the tyrant Saddam Hussein, the odious bin Laden,” and having at its command men like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Dracula of the Pentagon.” China – via its former vice premier Qian Qichen – has launched a devastating attack on Bush’s foreign policy.

This is an election to bury the neo-cons. As Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke put it succinctly in America Alone: The Neo-conservatives and the Global Order (Cambridge University Press, 2004), “Neo-conservatives see themselves in a world of Hobbesian state-of-nature primitivism and conspiracy where perpetual militarized competition for ascendancy is the norm, and moderation (even of the sort envisioned by Hobbes) by the community of nations is impossible, where the search for a social contract a la Locke or Rousseau is illusory, where trust among human beings is elusive, and where adversaries (defined as anyone who does not share the neo-conservative world view) must be preemptively crushed before they crush you.”

It took only eight neo-cons to take over the whole US government (namely the chief of the Near East and South Asia Division of the Department of Defense; the under secretary of defense for policy; the deputy secretary of defense; the secretary of defense; the under secretary of state for arms control; the chairman of the Defense Policy Board; the vice president; the chief of ataff to the vice president; and the deputy national security adviser). They are all members of the ultra-right-wing Project for a New American Century and they all signed the 1996 document “A Clean Break” written for the Likud Party in Israel – both of which have been calling for a war against Iraq since the mid-1990s.

This is an election to bury the real acting president, Dick Cheney, the ultimate architect of an ultra-secretive, anti-democratic, crony-capitalist-fueled Bush administration. But the fact is the neo-con-spun, non-reality-based paradigm really worked.

The numbers speak for themselves. In the faith-based universe versus the “reality community,” 55% of Bush supporters still believe Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda; 72% believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or a program to develop them; 69% believe Bush supports the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; 61% believe that if Bush knew there were no WMD he would not have gone to war; 60% believe most experts believe Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda; 58% believe that the recent Duelfer report concluded that Iraq had either WMD or a major program to develop them; 57% believe that the majority of people in the world would prefer a second Bush term; 55% believe the 9-11 Commission Report concluded Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda; 51% believe Bush supports the Kyoto treaty; and 20% still believe Iraq was directly involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The ‘war on terror’/Iraq record

A recent joint report by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the al-Mustansariya University in Baghdad concluded that 100,000 or more Iraqis may have died because of the war, and “most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children.”

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice should have resigned or been fired for allowing Bush to start a preemptive war based on false information and extremely incompetent analysis. Rumsfeld should have resigned or been fired over, among other things, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the human-rights abuses in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo, for waging two wars on the cheap, for backing the convicted fraud and Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, and for failing to preview the Iraqi liberation struggle/guerrilla movement.

“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US,” read the Central Intelligence Agency briefing of August 6, 2001; Bush’s reaction was to take a month-long vacation. As bin Laden mocked him in his recent speech, Bush kept reading My Pet Goat while planes-turned-to-missiles were devastating the World Trade Center. He opposed the 9-11 Commission and in the end only talked to its members under Cheney’s wing. Radio-controlled by the neo-cons, he implemented their Hobbesian militaristic agenda, alienated key US allies around the world and mocked the United Nations as “irrelevant.” There were no WMD in Iraq. But there are plenty in Pakistan and North Korea.

There is no rational explanation why revenge for September 11 got diverted into the catastrophic occupation of Iraq: Hamburg, Germany (where much of the September 11 plot may have been organized), and Hollywood, Florida (where several of the hijackers, according to the US government, had lived), had much more to do with September 11 than Iraq. And there’s no rational explanation for why Afghanistan, apart from Kabul, remains a de facto disaster area run by warlords while the Taliban and al-Qaeda are alive and kicking along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Bush was not elected by the majority in 2000. If he is really elected now – with or without the majority of the popular vote – this will send a strong signal to the whole world that Americans support the neo-con agenda. The sequence is predictable: more corporate tax cuts, an even more repressive Patriot Act, more wars in the Middle East, more geopolitical chaos. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The crusading armies may legitimize “exporting death and violence to the four corners of the Earth.” Or progressive America may rejoin reality and punish the Bush administration for what it is: an illegitimate aberration.