By suggesting that the insurgents in Iraq are playing US electoral politics, the Bush Administration convinces few voters, but does invoke scrutiny of its own motives. In October, the President, Vice President and press secretary Tony Snow all claimed that insurgents Iraq timed their attacks to influence the US midterm elections. While admitting he had no proof to support his claim, Dick Cheney told Rush Limbaugh on October 17, the argument “made sense to me”. Two weeks later he told Fox news “I think they are, very, very cognizant of our schedule, if you will.”
For Cheney, the very feel of truthiness made it correct. Ironically, using this administration’s standard of evidence, one might postulate a compelling notion that the Bush Administration itself timed the invasion of Iraq for electoral gain in 2004.
By early 2003, Administration hawks thought they could fashion and invasion of Iraq at minimal cost and maximum political benefit by the end of the year. A month before the invasion, Donald Rumsfeld estimated the war “could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”
The Sunday before the invasion, Cheney declared on Meet the Press: “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” Examples abound of administration officials promising that the invasion would require few troops and that Iraq’s oil revenue would pay for its own reconstruction.
The race to war despite global protests urging restraint, the presence of weapons inspectors in Iraq and the opportunities for practical diplomacy indicated a sense of urgency on the part of the Bush White House. The massive February 15, 2003 world-wide protests were so powerful that the New York Times dubbed global public opinion “the world’s second superpower”. Protestors in more than 700 cities on every continent (including one in McMurdo Station, Antarctica) warned this administration not to rush headlong into a reckless war of aggression. The Bush Administratoin ignored them and continued to manipulate intelligence to justify an invasion.
The time line to war would have given the administration and its Congressional allies nearly a year to crow about their triumph before the 2004 elections. Iraq liberated, our troops showered with flowers, and democracy sweeping the Middle East, would silence Democrats and doves. Indeed, they would fade into political irrelevance. Bush and his inner circle had faith in a kind of “Sunshine Doctrine” – behaving as if the sun shined out of their posteriors. Once the unconvinced people saw the light, they would follow indefinitely the neocon blueprint for a social reengineering of the Middle East. Less than two months after the invasion began, President Bush, costumed in a flightsuit, landed on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln: major combat operations had ended, mission accomplished.
This taxpayer funded political stunt worked to provide campaign imagery for the 2004 general elections. Bush began the war as a triumphant Caesar Augustus; three years later, he has reemerged as Emperor Nero. But the Administration’s Pax Americana served its purpose. Using the image of wartime leader, Bush won reelection. The self proclaimed wartime leader with a Republican majority in Congress. Had Iraq not begun disintegrating before the November 2004 elections, the margin of electoral victory could have been even greater. White House political strategist Karl Rove would have had the “perfect storm” for an electoral blowout in 2004 with coattails long enough to usher in a stunning über-majority in Congress.
As early as 1999, Bush told his erstwhile campaign biographer Mickey Herskowitz about his father’s mistake in the first Iraq war: “My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it....If I have a chance to invade…, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency.”
Circumstantially, the 2003 invasion linked to the 2004 electoral timeline, but no solid evidence has yet surfaced to show that key administration officials actually plotted it that way. But as Cheney said, it makes sense. By 2006, the Bush Administration’s toxic mix of arrogance, hubris and chutzpah poisoned US policies and reduced the administration to a global laughing stock. The neocons reached too high to in their quest for global hegemony and, like Icarus, came crashing down.
By suggesting that the insurgents in Iraq are playing electoral politics, Bush only invites scrutiny of his own political machinations. Perhaps, an investigation might be opened to determine whether White House political operatives had practiced the very manipulative techniques they now attribute to the Iraqi insurgents.
Sanho Tree is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.