George W. Bush wants war. He makes
no bones about it. Right now his biggest
concern is to get a UN Security Council
resolution that would provide political cover for
his planned war against Iraq, and he wants it
before our November 5 election.
Why? Because after the election, some
more Congressional Democrats might pick up
their spines from the Capitol cloak-room where
they surrendered them before voting to
authorize this war. We might then see more
vocal opposition from politicians here at home.
President Bush's motivation, and that of
his party, has been obvious from the start. They
needed to change the subject of political
coverage for the November elections. Otherwise
the newspapers and TV would have reported on
some issues that favor Democrats: the jobless
economic recovery, the millions who lost their
retirement savings in the stock market, a
Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Not to mention the pile of scandals that
have dogged the Bush administration, any one
of which is potentially fatal: President Bush's
Harken Energy Corporation, Cheney's
Halliburton, Enron and the corporate accounting
fraud, the 9-11 intelligence failure.
President Bush's decision to change the
channel, however cynical and depraved, has
been a brilliant political success. It remains to
be seen whether it will win the Congress for his
party. But his gambit completely transformed
media coverage for the 2002 election season.
The more difficult thing to explain is:
Why did the Democrats let him get away with
it? First, in fairness, it is important to note that
more than 60 percent of the Democrats in the
House of Representatives actually voted against
the resolution that gave the president a blank
check to start a war. Those who led the fight
against their party leadership -- Representatives
Barbara Lee (CA), Dennis Kucinich (OH),
Lloyd Doggett (TX), and Pete Stark(CA) --
deserve the highest praise.
The Senate was much worse: Democrats
voted 29-21 for the war resolution.
The biggest problem in both chambers is the
leadership: Dick Gephart, House Minority
Leader, and Tom Daschle, Senate Majority
Leader, both supported the war. Both have
presidential ambitions, and this is commonly
cited as the reason for their stance, as well as
that of other Democrats -- Senators Hillary
Clinton (NY) and John Kerry (MA) -- who
But the problem is deeper than that: the
Democrats who supported the war, including the
leadership, made some cynical calculations.
Some figured their consent to the war would
remove one issue from their election campaign,
where they were facing a pro-war Republican.
That was the leadership strategy, and
what a blunder it turned out to be. Daschle and
Gephart seemed to believe that if they gave
Bush what he wanted, they could move on to
other issues. But Bush played them like a violin,
and kept Iraq on the front pages almost every
day up to November.
The Democratic leadership's extreme
opportunism must be distinguished from simply
bowing to public pressure. Although polls have
shown a majority of people favoring military
action, this falls quickly to a minority when
casualties are mentioned.
And these polls have been taken among
people who have mostly heard only one side of
the story. The media -- especially TV and radio
-- tend to ignore opposing views when the
leadership of both parties is in agreement. With
an ounce of courage, Democratic leaders could
easily move public opinion against the war.
Whatever the outcome of the election,
Daschle and Gephart should resign from their
leadership positions. This is a matter of life and
death, war and peace, with untold and
unpredictable consequences. No elected official
should ever dishonor their oath, and betray their
constituents, by deciding such issues on the
basis of the most unprincipled political motives.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center
for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington D.C.