Why Bush Will Lose in November

by Charles Strohmer

(Editor's note: This was contributed by a reader and we include it in the hopes that it will generate some discussion about the upcoming election and all…)

"I think President Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004." Such was Pat Robertson's enthusiastic prediction, made during an episode of his 700 Club television program back in January.

Sorry, Pat, but I'm sensing voter agitation and a different outcome. A flotilla of other voters who were pro-Bush in 2000 will not support Bush this time round. Using the photo finish of the 2000 election as our guide, this shift of loyalty would be substantial enough to cost the president the presidency, whether these voters opted for the Democrat or the Independent candidate or simply stayed home on November 2.

The flotilla of voters I have in mind are comprised of many Independents and so-called conservative (Reagan) Democrats, much of the previously pro-Bush Muslim vote, and many evangelicals (who alone may number in the hundreds of thousands). Why will they be jumping ship? These thinking swing voters have concluded that they just don't like the consequences of the Bush administration's militaristic international policy. Directly or indirectly, these voters were deeply changed by the September 11th attacks and, having voted for Bush, they watched with patience and a reflective eye the administration's responses since the attacks. By and large they were on board early on. But then, after Afghanistan, news of the controversial Bush National Security Strategy (NSS) surfaced; then the invasion of Iraq occurred and now its ensuing debacle.

The Bush NSS culminated after more than a decade of crafting and false starts by the so-called neoconservative political theorists and policy makers: influential men who had presented various early drafts to the Clinton administration, which shelved them as too controversial. These men now hold key positions of power in the White House, the Pentagon, and other notable institutions: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, James Woolsey, John Bolton, Richard Armitage, and numerous others, including William Kristol, publisher and editor of The Weekly Standard.

As all national security documents have done, the lengthy Bush NSS addresses a broad range of crucial topics, but deeply troubling to many is the document's bold and clear articulation of a doctrine of [military] preemption against "imminent threat" from anywhere in the world, as the document states, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack, for the United States cannot remain idle while danger gathers. When this principle justified invading Iraq, swing voters had good and sufficient reasons, as countless others outside the U.S. also argued, for doubting such a policy at this time. True, a policy of deterrence, such as during the Cold War era, would have been ineffective against this dictator. But the invasion card could have been played later, if necessary. In the meantime, a policy of containment would have been a wiser action.

Although invasion was chosen over containment, a mistaken foreign policy can be forgiven by voters if it does not prove to be too costly. So an invasion of Iraq, in principle, probably would not have cost Bush his thinking swing vote. But the horrific, escalating violence has. The swing voters are having their worst fears confirmed, their initial objections to the war proven.

Another feature also has them bailing out. Although it is not possible to determine how any war will go, even with extensive contingency planning, the Bush neoconservatives failed to accept smart, post-war planning proposals. James Fallows, award-wining national correspondent for The Atlantic, writes that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is a debacle not because the government did no planning but because a vast amount of expert planning was willfully ignored by the people in charge ("Blind into Baghdad," The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2004). In his lengthy "inside story," Fallows draws from numerous carefully crafted post-war planning proposals (from both the private and the public sectors) and from his meeting at the Pentagon with Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy – the only neoconservative who would agree to talk with him.

It is worth hearing Fallows's conclusion. "[The] collective efforts at planning by the CIA, the State Department, the Army and the Marine Corps, the United States Agency for International Development [USAID], and a wide variety of other groups inside and outside the government are underappreciated by the public…. The Administration will be admired in retrospect for how much knowledge it created for the challenge it was taking on. U.S. government predictions about postwar Iraq's problems have proved as accurate as the assessments of pre-war Iraq's strategic threat have proved flawed. But the Administration will be condemned for what it did with what was known. The problems the United States has encountered are precisely the ones that its own expert agencies warned against. Exactly what went wrong with the occupation will be studied for years – or should be. The missteps of the first half year in Iraq are as significant as other classic and carefully examined failures in foreign policy, including John Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion, in 1961, and Lyndon Johnson's decision to escalate the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, in 1965…. [The] ongoing financial, diplomatic, and human cost of the Iraq occupation is the more grievous in light of advance warnings the government had.

Evidently, the Bush neocons treated American agencies like they treated the U.N. and much of Europe during the buildup to the war about Iraq: tell us what you've got to say, but we're going to do what we want to, regardless. This brazen attitude vis a vis such momentous decisions, combined with the Bush doctrine of preemption and the consequences of the war in Iraq, which can now be seen more as a war of choice than a war of necessity, will cost President Bush his swings. The man with whom they may have wished a longer relationship has failed them miserably in an area which they see as having long-term ramifications more serious to American life and prosperity than the economy, heathcare, or a gay marriage amendment to the Constitution. Mind you, many of them may not actually fault the President himself, though he will be the primary victim of their political fallout. For it might be argued that Bush may not have known what he was letting himself in for, really, when he signed off on neoconservative military policy. Nevertheless, the thinking swing vote knows that if Bush is no longer in office, it's bye-bye neocons. And that is their objective.

The United States cannot be afoot in today's post-9/11 world disregarding sound advice that does not originate from the neoconservatives' worldview. Thinking evangelical, Muslim, Independent, and conservative Democrat swing voters now understand that. The neocons clearly know how to lead militarily, which makes them good at knocking things down. But now it's past time to start building things up. Although it must be admitted that the Bush administration was handed a hell of a situation on September 11th, 2001, and though it is making some progress in Iraq, swings now recognize a fundamental incapability of neocons: they are weak at leading diplomatically and geopolitically. Engaging in a war on terrorism and giving short shrift to diplomacy is not the way into a more peaceable future.

Of course, should they inherit the Iraq debacle, it is far from assured that a Democratic administration will be any wiser than the neocons about terrorism and the Arab-Muslim world. True, much can and will happen before November 2. Events may unfold that spike Bush's appeal just before election day. Osama bin Laden may even be found. Nevertheless, thinking swing voters in November may well be the demographic responsible for de-electing the current occupant of the White House.

Charles Strohmer is the author of several books, the most recent, Uncommon Sense: God's Wisdom for Our Complex and Changing World, co-authored with John Peck.

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