Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Who would do a better job in Iraq?

Cyber age: The Statesman October 6, 2004

Who would do a better job in Iraq?

The political war about war in Iraq has heated up to the point that other domestic issues including economy, jobs, social security, education and health care have been sidetracked. The daily flow of images of car bombs and suicide explosions in Baghdad, images of the injured being rushed to hospitals and the dead being mourned, are being used both by Republicans and Democrats to make their own partisan argument: For Republicans, the Iraq war is a war against terrorism that must be won; for Democrats Iraq is a no-win situation and there has to be a smarter strategy of disengagement. Senator Kerry says President Bush not only made “a colossal error in judgment” about Iraq but has also misled the nation about the grimness of the current situation, and he “owes the American people the truth and he owes the troops the truth.” Even some prominent Republican leaders agree with the assessment that the situation in Iraq has been going from bad to worse. “The worst thing we can do is to hold ourselves hostage to some grand illusion we’re winning. Right now we are not winning. Things are getting worse,” Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said a few weeks ago. His Republican colleagues in the Senate, Senator Richard Luger of Indiana and John McCain of Arizona have been equally vociferous against the false sense of optimism of the Bush administration and lack of planning in conducting the war and its aftermath. Despite the talk of deception, the charge of ill-conceived war planning and daily horrors of war images, Bush – according to several polls – maintains a steady though narrow lead and also may be solidifying his lead in the so-called red states he won in the 2000 election. Even among women voters, Bush is edging ahead of Kerry, though a majority of women voted for the Democratic candidate Vice-President Al Gore in the last election. From suburban moms to soccer moms to security moms, the American woman voter would prefer a leader in the White House who promises to make life in the USA safe. For women, it is always security first. The commander-in-chief must make the American home safe. That’s the difference between the Vietnam War and the war against terrorism. Getting out of Vietnam was humiliating but it did no harm to the USA, its homes and streets. Getting out of Iraq will not be the end of terrorism and will not make the main street safe. American voters may not like Bush much but they are still not sure of Kerry, despite his excellent performance in the first debate, that he is the man with an executable plan to eradicate insurgency and begin the beginning of democracy in Iraq. Republican attacks have tried to paint Kerry as weak on defence against terror, a position that according to them emboldens terrorists. Bush was quick to say during the debate, “I don’t see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place.” The political ad war is being fought under the shadow of the ruins of the World Trade Centre. The announcer in one of the ads asks: “Would you trust Kerry up against these fanatic killers?” Days before the first presidential debate, in an interview broadcast with a conservative talk-show host Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, Bush said that he had no regrets about going to war against Iraq and declaring the war to be over when he landed on a carrier dressed up in a flight suit in May 2003. The number of Americans dead after Bush declared the war over rose to more than a thousand, and the overall misery of the Iraqi people, not the least thousands of civilians dead and injured, has been incalculable. So the question is, why are the American people not ready to ditch Bush in favour of Kerry? As Bill Clinton said in a perceptive moment, in difficult times Americans prefer a leader who is strong though wrong to one who is right but weak. Trying to fight the impression of weakness, Kerry said during the debate, “Yes, we have to be steadfast and resolved, and I am. And I will succeed for those troops, now that we’re there. We have to succeed. We can’t leave a failed Iraq.” But the doubt remains. Could Kerry convince the American people that he can do the job, that he would be able to bring the allies around and persuade them to send troops to Iraq, that he could set a timetable to end the war? They might give the benefit of doubt to Bush because they believe that terrorism is not a passing phase in international affairs and the war is going to be long and hard. But in times like these when American homes are flooded with images of daily carnage, Iraq might turn the tables against Bush’s optimism that the war against terrorism is being won. Kerry might win by default. But I will hold my tongue until the election is over.

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