Alex's Outlook

Monday, May 10, 2004

Thoughts on the recent fiasco


The Beltway is full hysteria mode. Conservatives are in despair. With the WMD justification for war wiped out, the Administration shifted to the even more shallow humanitarian justification. (I always thought that both explanations were ridiculous. I have been a hawk because I think that Sunni Muslim extremism can be defeated only by liberalizing the Middle East, starting with Iraq.) The abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib just nullified the humanitarian justification.

Ouch.

I think that is the Bush Administration's rationale - it has been the neo-con position all along - but the Administration was too squeamish to be honest with the American people. Now the Administration is paying the price.

Rumsfeld, a hero to conservatives, has failed abysmally in Iraq. There is no other way to put it. The high command demanded more troops, and Rumsfeld shrugged them off. As a result, when the Sunnis and Shia radicals revolted, the US had to negotiate instead of crush them. As I explained below, negotiating with quasi-terrorists in Falluja (the Sunnis) and al-Sadr's Iranian-funded Shia radicals in Najaf would be inexplicable unless the US did not have sufficient resources to cope with it.

Despite all that, Rumsfeld is going to keep his job. According to Robert Novak, the conservative elite consensus is that Rumsfeld has to go, but I just don't see it happening. It would be a repudiation of Bush's entire foreign policy. And despite Rumsfeld's failures in Iraq, the Iraq war is hardly lost, his performance in Afghanistan was exemplary, and the public is still behind him.

So, now to what really matters...how does all this affect Bush in November? To be more specific, how badly does this hurt him?

The answer: not much. Conservatives are panicking, but they should calm down. Heads will roll over Abu Ghraib, and it will blow over. Payrolls are surging along with economic growth; the economy will be a major plus for Bush by November. Iraq is a wild card, but again, barring a full-blown insurrection or a dramatic election-eve jump in casualties, it will not hurt Bush significantly unless the economic recovery falters as well.

Remember, even if Bush loses, Kerry can't be that much worse. The Bush tax cuts will die, but federal spending will stagnate along with it. The Republicans will keep control of the House of Representatives no matter what, and will probably barely hang onto the Senate too, even in the event of a Kerry victory.

The tragic thing about a Kerry victory would be the signal it would send to the Arab world. Bush has been bad news for radical Sunni Islam, period. A repudiation of Bush would be a repudiation of that record. That is why I am supporting him. Domestically, Bush's record on the only significant variable (federal spending) has been grotesque.

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