Robert S. McElvaine: It's the Illusions About Iraq, Stupid

Robert S. McElvaine (Oct. 23, 2004):

[Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History, and is currently completing his first novel and screenplay.]

The sign that ought to be on the wall at John Kerry’s campaign headquarters is: IT’S THE ILLUSION THAT IRAQ & THE WAR ON TERROR ARE THE SAME, STUPID!

That’s a little longer than the slogan on the sign in Bill Clinton’s campaign war room in 1992, but this time, it’s not the economy, stupid.

That seems odd at a time when the incumbent seeking reelection has: presided over the loss of more than a million private sector American jobs, the worst record since Herbert Hoover; overseen an economy in which the stock market suffered its worst decline in the first two years of any administration since Hoover’s; inherited an annual federal budget surplus of $230 billion and transformed it into a $400+ billion deficit in three years, a negative turnaround of two-thirds of a trillion dollars that is totally without precedent in our history; and seen more than a million additional Americans fall into poverty and more than a million lose health insurance in the past year alone.

It seems baffling how a president with a record like that could even be close in the polls to his challenger. The reason is that the Bush campaign has so far succeeded in getting a majority of the electorate to look in a different direction. In order to get the voters to focus on the economic and other disasters of the Bush presidency, the Democrats must first get them to turn their attention away from the greatest diversion cooked up by the Bush reelection team.

It is now clear that the outcome of this year’s critical presidential election hinges almost entirely on one question: Can George W. Bush keep a majority of the voting public believing the patently false claim that the Iraq War is part of the war against terrorism?

If the public continues to believe that invading Iraq was part and parcel of fighting against al Qaeda, President Bush will win reelection. If a majority of the public sees through the smoke and mirrors that have been so skillfully manipulated by Karl Rove, and understands that the Iraq War not only is not part of the struggle against Osama bin Laden, but has played right into his hands, lost the United States the great international support we had after 9-11, produced innumerable new terrorists, and actually made us much less safe, the second Bush presidency will go the way of the first.

Because the false link between the necessary and popular war against terror and the unnecessary and unpopular war against Iraq is the linchpin of Bush’s entire case for reelection, it must become the primary target of the Kerry campaign. If the Democrats can knock out that one fastener, the wheels of the Bush campaign will fly off and he will be beaten by a substantial margin.

George W. Bush and his administration are very inept when it comes to almost everything that matters—foreign policy, the economy, planning for military contingencies, etc. They are, however, very, very good at a few things that may matter more in winning elections: manipulating public perceptions, misdirecting public attention, and clothing their otherwise naked administration in an American flag woven of synthetic fabric (presumably by workers in China).

What the Kerry campaign needs is a Toto who can pull away the curtain behind which the Wizard of Rove is pulling the levers and turning the dials that continue to produce the humbug that the Iraq disaster is a war that is weakening terrorists and making us more secure. In fact, the Iraq war is just what Bush inadvertently said it was in a recent interview: a “catastrophic success”—an initial military success that has led to catastrophe.

If the public can be gotten to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, we will realize that we have been the victims of disorganized thinking that has been intentionally disorganized by the Bush team, and that we have within us the means to save ourselves: the ability to vote Bush out of office.

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