This is the moment. This is the point in time when Bush either wins or loses the next presidential election. If he waits much longer than this to put his strategy in motion, it won’t matter; he won’t have time to move enough voters into his column. And big strategies take time to implement. If Karl Rove thinks an October, 2004, invasion of Syria, say, is what it will take to get swing voters to vote for Bush, then the preparation for that needs to start now.
Given that fact, I keep coming back to Sunday’s speech, and what it says about Bush’s overall strategy. Say what you will about Rove, you can’t accuse him of thinking small. Everyone’s interpreting the shift in rationale (“Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror”) as a defensive move, a ploy to shore up eroding support in the face of the missing Iraqi WMDs. But maybe it’s actually an offensive move, the first step in expanding the “war on terror” beyond Iraq.
Gwynne Dyer talked about this back in early August, in a piece I linked to then, but which has since disappeared (with a new, unrelated item appearing in its place, thanks to the extremely Web-challenged information architects behind the Jordan Times’ site). Anyway, the piece is still available, thanks to those clueful folks at al-Jazeerah: Welcome to Iraq-Nam. Here’s a key passage:
It [the guerilla war in Iraq] will escalate, and by this time next year the Bush reelection bid will be in serious trouble — so serious only another brief and victorious war against alleged ‘terrorists’ may be able to save it. Washington is already blaming ‘foreign terrorists’ for the non-Baathist resistance in Iraq, and Syria and Iran are going to find themselves filling the same rhetorical role that the Ho Chi Minh trail did in the earlier war. Since Syria is a much softer target than Iran, it is quite likely to be invaded and occupied by American forces before November, 2004 . If there is another major terrorist attack on American soil, that likelihood becomes a near certainty.
That last part is interesting. As things stand today, I don’t think Bush could credibly invade Syria; it would be too transparent a ploy to secure his (re-)election. If you look at the latest update of Pollkatz’s Bush-approval graph, you can see that that steep decline in his post-flight-suit numbers has continued unabated. That’s the thing about people; they just won’t stay fooled. Not enough of them, anyway. And each time you fool them, they get un-fooled faster.
There’s an interesting new poll from ABC News: Was It Worth It? Poll: More Americans Think Iraq War Raises Risk of Anti-U.S. Terror. If you look at those numbers, you get a picture of people getting wise to the reality of Bush’s maneuvers. Republicans by-and-large still think he’s doing great in Iraq, Democrats by-and-large think he’s failing, but it’s those Independents who tell the story. They’re the ones who decide presidential elections, and they’re shifting steadily into the anti-Bush column.
Besides the transparency of the ploy, there’s also that pesky issue of funding. Between the big tax cuts for the rich (and the modest ones for us middle-classers with kids), and his penchant for playing with life-sized army men, Bush has pretty much maxed out his credit cards.
So taken together, this means he’d have a really hard time successfully mounting an election-securing invasion of Syria. At least, he would if he tried to do it today.
But that’s the beauty of it. He doesn’t have to do it today. Today, in fact, would be much too early. He has a whole year to prepare.
So; what form might those preparations take? Well, as Dyer mentioned, another terrorist attack on US soil would do nicely. Would Bush intentionally allow such a thing to happen, to help his own political fortunes? Hopefully not. But I’d certainly believe him capable of engineering a reasonable facsimile without the high body count; a near-miss, maybe, dramatic enough to be really scary in its implications.
Or not; again, the transparency of his motivations in creating such a Reichstag fire would make it risky. If too many of his fingerprints were on it, it could end up being counter-productive.
There are other actors in this drama, though, who might be willing to help out. Ariel Sharon, for example. Sharon has a very powerful interest in helping Bush get elected, and he might well be able to create enough mischief (invading Lebanon? a bombing campaign in Syria?) to give Bush a pretext for an invasion somewhere.
And then there’s Osama bin Laden. I realize this is going to make right-wingers start talking about tin-foil hats, but I think the leader of al Qaeda might very well decide that the best thing for continuing his plans to foment an all-encompassing war between Islam and the West would be to return George Bush to office. So far, Bush has been a perfect accomplice. Throughout the Islamic world, anti-American sentiment is up, recruiting is up, and the hated secular regime in Iraq has been overthrown, paving the way for a rise of Islamic fundamentalism there.
Which brings me back to Sunday’s speech. Maybe the shift in rationale goes beyond trying to float a new justification for the war. Maybe the president’s latest taunting (“We’ve taken the fight to the enemy! Our cities are safe because the people being blown to little bloody bits are on their turf, not ours!”) is intended, on some level, to encourage another attack on the US. Maybe Bush is intentionally baiting bin Laden and his followers, as with his earlier “Bring ‘em on!” statement. Maybe the whole thing is part of a grand design for electoral victory.
I don’t know. Bush is a mean-spirited man, with a hard, twisted little heart, and Karl Rove is famously willing to do anything in pursuit of victory. But still. I guess if you strapped me down in a Guantanamo interrogation facility and injected me with truth serum I’d have to admit that I doubt Bush is pursuing such a strategy consciously. But then again, Bush doesn’t have to be conscious of the strategy in order for it to work. Maybe Bush is just “being himself,” talking tough without any clear idea of the response he might provoke, consulting his gut rather than his head, doing what feels right to his perpetually chip-on-the-shoulder inner child. Bush is absurdly unsubtle, completely lacking in insight into his own motivations. He’s oblivious to the fact that he’s engaged in a dance of ever-escalating violence with a partner who is equally focused on achieving an apocalyptic outcome, each side convinced that “his” God will see to it that, in the end, his own side prevails. Emotionally, Bush wants this fight, and is incapable of backing away from it.
But Rove is a different story. As much as anyone in the Bush administration, Rove is a pragmatist. He knows what the strategy is, with all its emotional baggage stripped away. It would be really interesting to get Karl Rove in that interrogation chamber for a few hours and see what emerged of his unfiltered thinking. Scary, but interesting.