By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
Karl Rove&Co., feeling themselves freed from the bipartisan torture albatross hanging around their necks as a result of having rolled the GOP-rebel senators, are moving toward the “October suprises” they’ve been hinting at.
What those surprises might be range from announcing the capture or death of Osama bin Laden to a surgical strike on Iran’s fledgling nuclear program to ignoring a possible major terrorist attack against the U.S. — or, conversely, announcing that they’ve foiled a frightening urban bomb plot. Or all of the above, and more.
Yes, of course Rove and his minions can count on their usual bag of electoral stratagems and dirty tricks on Election Day: knocking hundreds of thousands of minority voters off the voting rolls in various key states, requiring photo-IDs (often difficult for poor and rural folks to get — a new kind of “poll tax”) in order to cast a ballot, helping create new Swift Boat-type organizations to slime Democratic opponents with millions of dollars of TV ads, relying on corruptable e-voting machines and suspect vote-counting, and so on. But they’ve done most of those things for five years now.
No, my guess is that, given Bush’s and the GOP’s abysmally low poll numbers, the “suprises” are going to have to be something truly stunning if the Republicans want to avoid losing control of the House on November 7.
AN OSAMA BIN LADEN “SURPRISE”
The Republicans have little positive to run on. Virtually every initiative they touch turns into a disaster, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Katrina to the EPA telling lies about air quality at Ground Zero to Bush’s ongoing plan to privatize Social Security to the stagnant economy. So the Busheviks are left with their old standby: frighten the crap out of the electorate on terror and taxes. That’s it.
If one of the big “surprises” turns out to be a confirmation of the French/Saudi report that bin Laden died in late-August, Americans might well wonder why Rove and his crew, who obviously knew this news well in advance, waited six weeks for just the right pre-election moment to have it officially announced.
In addition, a bit of caution is in order here. In the world of well-orchestrated psy-ops, let us remember that the convenient rumored death of bin Laden could be of great service to the Republicans in garnering votes and support for Election Day. But it could be less than meets the eye.
Well, lookee here, sometime after November 7, there’s another little “surprise”: It turns out the reports of bin Laden’s death were greatly exaggerated, and he’s still around. Whoops, our bad.
Not saying that scenario would happen, but stranger things have.
ROLL OUT THE TERROR PLOTS
By demanding that the Brits arrest the alleged “liquid-bomb” airline plotters immediately, way before the police there wanted, the Bush Administration demonstrated for all to see that it had no problems compromising a huge anti-terrorism investigation; the British authorities were working to ensnare more cell-members and get to the higher-ups, but Rove wanted what he wanted and he wanted it now.
In addition, as we later learned, reputable scientists showed that the “liquid bombs” these alleged conspirators supposedly were going to use would have been virtually impossible to mix on an airplane.
But so what? The arrests accomplished what Rove wanted: a scary scenario that Republican candidates could point to as a demonstration-model for why the GOP should be left in charge of the nation’s national security. Didn’t matter if the alleged plot was real or not, or hyped way beyond its true nature, or prematurely revealed for partisan political reasons, or any of that.
The point is that the Bush-friendly corporate media ate up the “imminent” terror scenario, and the story dominated the news cycles for several days, thus imprinting fright back into voters’ minds. In some polls, this news plus Bush’s pounding the fear theme in his 9/11 speeches has been enough to send him up a few points. (There ARE bad guys out there who’d love to do America great damage; that’s not the issue. The issue is to how most intelligently to handle the situation.)
Will be interesting to see how much Bush’s numbers plummet after this weekend’s news that America’s spying agencies unanimously have concluded, in their top-secret National Intelligence Estimate, ( http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/24/world/middleeast/24terror.html?hp&ex=1159156800&en=22b7a0941b08007f&ei=5094&partner=homepage ) that Bush’s war and occupation in Iraq have made the U.S. less secure, ( http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/contributors/428 ) not more. This is a HUGE dagger aimed at the heart of a CheneyBush Administration that claims its wars of choice have helped make us all safer.)
PLANTING THE NEW SEEDS FOR WAR
It’s “deja vu all over again.” A Middle East leader is demonized as evil incarnate; he is alleged to be eager to develop nuclear weapons; his regime cracks down on many freedoms and handles reformers harshly; he is threatening to Israel; he is avoiding complying with U.N. resolutions; the U.S. is building a coalition in opposition to his policies; a special Administration group is organized to “market” the runup to war, etc. Nope, not Hussein in Iraq; it’s Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.
The Bush Administration has been laying the foundations for an attack on Iran for many months, in a manner highly reminiscent of the run-up to its attack on Iraq. The justification for an attack on Iran, especially one centered on bombing that country’s nuclear facilities, is that Iran may be planning to someday move its legal civilian atomic-energy program into a military mode by preparing to build nuclear weapons; so, reason the Busheviks, better to attack Iran now, while its atomic program is in its infancy. Doing so five or ten years down the line, this reasoning goes, would be too late without facing grave damage to our own forces. The Bush “pre-emption” policy: hit ’em while they’re relatively defenseless.
Of course, Iran, unlike Iraq, is not a military paper-tiger. Even without WMD, Iran could wield enormous military and political power in the region, which would have ramifications around the world. Venezuela, for instance, says if the U.S. attacks Iran, all Venezuelan oil shipments to America will be halted.
Both Time ( http://www.slate.com/id/2149889 ) and The Nation ( http://www.thenation.com/doc/20061009/lindorff ) have reported that U.S. naval forces are preparing to head toward the Iran area. Special Forces have been trained in laying mines in the Straits of Hormuz; that narrow bottleneck, if Iran were to sink major vessels there, could halt Iran’s supply of oil to the West. Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner says the U.S. already has inserted special forces into Iran in preparation for a coming attack. The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh many months ago reported that the U.S. was gearing up for such a conflict, with many high-ranking American officers deeply opposed and leaking the likelihood of such an attack to the media.
In short, the Bush Administration seems to be following the neo-con time schedule, with an attack on Iran just around the corner. It would seem politically suicidal for the CheneyBush Administration to launch such bombing prior to November 7, but you never know with this bunch. They might believe that Americans would not dare to change governments in the middle of another war — rally ’round the President and Flag and all that. If the attack doesn’t happen pre-Election Day, then it likely will come shortly thereafter.
THE POLITICS OF TORTURE
All actions taken by the Bush Administration from about six months ago up to November 7 have one goal and one goal only: to aid the Republicans stay in control of the House, or, at the least, to limit the damage in this possible Democratic-sweep year. These Bush guys will say anything, do anything, to remain in power, even seem to be violating their ideology. After Election Day, of course, their usual M.O. is to return to their true selves — a truly revolting prospect, that — and an attack on Iran certainly would qualify in that regard.
Back to torture. Bush&Co. would have been badly harmed politically if the torture brouhaha continued indefinitely. Rove’s intent all along had been to force the Democrats into a terrible choice: 1) Either vote for Bush’s bill on torture/military tribunals and thus give the Administration a blank-check while selling out their party’s principles; or, 2) oppose the bill and be tarred by Republicans as “unpatriotic” or soft-on-terrorism “appeasers.”
Democrats chose to sit on the sidelines during the initial struggle between McCain/Graham/Warner and the White House on the language in the bill. The Democrats hoped that the so-called Republican rebels would force a capitulation on Bush’s part, so the Dems wouldn’t have to take him on and risk any political capital. Either that or the GOP “moderates” would stick to their guns and, joined by the Democrats, make sure the bill stayed bottled-up in committee prior to the November election.
Well, as it turned out, it was the so-called “moderate” Republicans who caved, and Bush got such mushy language into the agreed-to “compromise” that basically the CIA is free to continue torturing suspects pretty much as it has been during the past five years, and now the military interrogators will be required to remain in the room while it happens. Bush made a minor concession or two, but even those are open to loopholes big enough to accomodate a large CIA truck carrying used waterboards.
DEMOCRATS BETWEEN ROCK & HARD PLACE
In short, the Democrats are on their own here on this issue — exactly where Rove hoped to position them. As I write this, there appears to be no consensus among the Democrats as to how they should react to Rove’s successful ploy — not even to attempt to delay the final vote on the bill past Election Day. (And Sen. Spectre’s hissy-fit about outlawing judicial review of these tribunal cases probably won’t last more than a day or two; why don’t the Democrats jump into that fight?)
Some DLC-type leaders believe the Democrats could well take the prize in November, and thus Dem candidates should just keep their heads down and their powder dry and ride out the next six weeks. Why risk anything when the signs are looking so good, especially with the Republicans constantly shooting themselves in the feet?
The more activist Dems feel that the tactic of running out the clock is stupid, and potentially dangerous. They are of the “best defense is a good offense” frame of mind. The Republicans, they argue, have oodles of cash on hand, and Swift-Boating-type PACs dedicated to smearing Dem candidates; without a vigorous Dem offense — especially on Iraq and Bush’s mishandling of national-security — the momentum they’ve built up could dissipate in the next six weeks and the Republicans could continue their domination of the House, especially given some illegal fiddling with the vote totals in certain tight races. (Question: Are the Democrats positioning attorneys in the various states and districts where tight races are indicated, to deal on the spot with electoral-fraud issues?)
I see the advantage of the first Democratic strategy, but lean more toward the second. The GOP, thanks to the incompetence, recklessness and lawlessness of the Bush Administration, is vulnerable right now. Don’t let them get off the mat and back into the fight. Hit ’em and hit ’em hard; possible topics:
* How Bush&Co. policies have weakened our national security.
* Their disastrous “stay-the-course-over-the-cliff” strategy in Iraq and their failure to secure Afghanistan when it could have been secured.
* Their callous disregard for the lives of poor Americans, as became clear after Katrina.
* Their devoting the bulk of their tax cuts to the already wealthy thus leaving the struggling middle-class to their own devices. (Factor in Bush’s ongoing plan to privatize Social Security after the election.)
* Their not supporting the troops properly in-theatre (stretching them way too thin, constantly renewing their tours of duty, not providing the proper armoring and equipment, etc).
* Engaging in torture at Abu Ghraib and other prisons around the world.
* Failure of the Veterans Administration to well-serve the vets when they come back home maimed and wounded. And on and on, certainly including the likelihood of huge Guard and Reserve callups in Iraq and maybe for Iran as well.
STANDING UP FOR DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES
Republican-lite is just not good enough any more. If the Democrats are to avoid being regarded as an opposition party in name only, they must constantly let the voters know how, and in what ways, they are different from the Republicans.
The GOP — as a result of its arrogance, corruption, bungling and reckless behavior — is ripe for a fall, and so many traditional Republications and moderate conservatives are just looking for an excuse to desert them at the polls. But if the Democrats don’t take principled stands on the issues, they can be demonized easily by Rove&Co, and those wayward Republicans might well vote for the devil they know rather than for those wishy-washy Democrats.
There isn’t a helluva lot of time to play with here, friends. The Democrats have to make their voices heard loud and clear from now until November 7. If they choose not to, the risk is very real that Bush&Co. will take them, and the country, down with them in the next two years.
Sound like so much partisan scare tactics? I wish it were. Unfortunately, I think I’m being much too cautious in my conclusions. As we’ve come to know more in the past year, this Bush crew is way worse than we ever thought, or feared. November may be the best, and perhaps only, chance in a generation to take them down. A landslide GOP defeat is what we need, and what we must work for. #
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington State, worked as a writer-editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades, and currently is co-editor of The Crisis Papers. To comment: email@example.com .
First published by The Crisis Papers 9/26/06.
Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner.