THE campaign speeches of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney in Tennessee and Pennsylvania this week are curious both in their thrust and in the re-election strategy they indicate.
In the face of last week s Senate report and other overwhelming
information that the vital underpinnings of Mr. Bush s decision to go
to war Iraq s possession of weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda were incorrect, he nonetheless continued to maintain in Oak Ridge that his decision was correct.
He does this in the face of a death toll of American military
personnel in Iraq standing now at 887, a ruinous drain on the
Treasury of $150 billion and rising, and a steady decline in American
support and influence among its allies across the world.
He continues to argue that Americans are safer because of what he did in Iraq, even though the war has multiplied manifold the number of people who hate the United States across the world, and not just
Mr. Bush s war in Iraq has, in fact, greatly increased the
probability that the country s enemies will carry out another
terrorist act in the homeland, perhaps before the elections. The
administration s discussions about postponing the elections, coupled with this election strategy, inevitably raise the question of their intentions with respect to the smooth functioning of American
Mr. Cheney directs his accusations to the Congress, from which come the two Democratic candidates, Sen. John F. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards, throwing their October, 2002, votes in support of the war in their faces.
So that the record can be kept straight on that subject, it is
important to recall that the congressional vote at that time took
place in a context of a promise by Mr. Bush to bring the matter back
to the Congress and to work with the United Nations before actually
going to war.
He didn t do either, taking the country to war against Iraq, a
sovereign country, without even a declaration of war. If it hadn t
been Saddam Hussein s Iraq, no one s favorite country, and the United States, the world s only superpower, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, would have drawn strong United Nations Security Council condemnation as unprovoked aggression, comparable to Iraq s own attack on Kuwait in 1990.
Mr. Bush also, of course, took advantage of the pre-2002 election
timing of the vote to put the Democrats up against the wall on the
subject. A vote against the war at that time, with the administration
ringing all the bells about how Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and was collaborating with al-Qaeda, would have required a level of political courage that does not normally characterize America s legislators.
So what do Mr. Bush s and Mr. Cheney s speeches, as examples, suggest that Republican campaign strategy is? Apparently it is, in the words of the song, That s my story and I m stickin to it.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are thus betting that voters will not take
the trouble to inform themselves on the truth of the matter regarding
the Iraq war.
It is a crude gamble and an expression of contempt for the
intelligence of the American voter. It is hard to imagine it will
work, but the President and vice president obviously believe it is
worth a try.