And The War Came

Planet America: Our world and welcome to it

Back here in the homeland, there is really no counting all the ways the Iraqi invasion could turn sour on Bush and his gang sooner rather than later. Besides civil war a host of other prospects suggest themselves. The obvious ones include:

  • U.S. casualties. If they mount into the thousands, Americans' shaky popular support for Bush and the war at home will be toast.

  • More domestic terror attacks. However much they might inflame the public and win Bush a brief rally, over the long haul they will only erode public taste for the path of unending war.
    Steve Johnson And Lou Fancher

  • Regional dominoes. Thanks to press accounts of the dress rehearsal in Afghanistan, many Americans now realize that there is a huge and growing mass of average Arab citizens who despise America, and that they pose a clear and present danger to U.S.-friendly regimes in several key states. If the government in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or especially nuked-up Pakistan should fall as a result of pressures created by Bush's war, we will find ourselves living in even more interesting times.

  • Israel. Like many others, I have always presumed Israel would come safely to heel in the event of crisis, lest we take away their credit cards. No one seems so sure anymore. "I think Israel will stay in step with the U.S.," says one longtime Pentagon watcher. "If they don't, it's a historical precedent almost as stunning as Bush's preemptive war." On the other hand it is not hard to imagine scenarios in which Israel might flout the U.S. for its own ends. If the Iraq war causes a flood of refugees into Jordan, for instance, and that wave spills onto the West Bank, Israel might seize the opportunity to announce a crisis of its own and expel all Palestinians and other Arabs from the West Bank--and then simply present the U.S. and the world with a fait accompli. (The longer the war goes on without massive casualties in the Iraqi populace, however, the unlikelier such a flood of refugees becomes.)


IV. Quitters Never Win

The entire world would like to see American voters dump Bush in 2004, and the Internet is full of chatter suggesting it's already a done deal. Not so. Forget for a moment the absolutely unprecedented scale of antiwar sentiment in the land and remember two things that W has going for him: first, a sizeable and utterly bellicose minority that will support any war, anywhere, anytime, and second, the Democratic presidential field.

If you still want proof that our national politics is a thoroughly rigged game and that the Democrats are useless, then please, have a stab at explaining what follows in any other way: A regime takes power under dubious and widely resented circumstances. This regime proves to be extremist in its foreign and domestic policies in ways no one had expected. The public rises in growing waves of outrage. Presented with so many avenues of attack, the opposition party surveys the situation and--coughs up backer after backer of the president's war! All those so far anointed as "serious" candidates (Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, the dread Lieberman) support not only the war abroad; they have spoken as one to condemn Bush for being soft on homeland preparedness. No breaks from the Patriot Act to be had with this crowd. And thus, without even pausing for breath, the loyal opposition has already caught up with the Republicans' radical lurch to the right.

There are a pair of "dark horse" antiwar Democrats out there in Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean, but of the two only Dean has even the faintest hope of emerging as a contender should the war go south on Bush. More likely the Democratic nomination will wind up in the hands of Palatable Candidate X, who is bound to seem a lesser evil to many people, but perhaps not enough to counterbalance the segment of the population that believes President Bush has shown some real 'nads, man.

The polls offer a last word on the sickly Democratic field: As it now stands, less than 50 percent of the public supports Bush's reelection. Yet in head to head polling against the Democrats who are running, Bush edges every one. Does it matter to beat him? Yes. He's the most radical U.S. president in any of our lifetimes, and not in a good way. Does that mean a Democratic successor, particularly one with the me-too gene, will be able--or willing--to extricate himself from what Bush has wrought by then in Iraq? No. Maybe he will and maybe he won't. Impossible to say from here.

We can speculate all we want, but there really is no telling how the war will go and the W claque will fare in the months ahead. All of the previous scenarios for trouble notwithstanding, it is also quite possible that things will go smoothly enough for Bush for the duration of the only future that matters to him, which is the period between now and November 2004. He only needs a couple of things to go his way. First, and most critical, he must depose Saddam quickly and as bloodlessly as possible to quell uprisings elsewhere in the region and mollify world opinion. We'll know that answer in a matter of days or weeks, because that will be all the time he's got to make it happen. If it does go down that way, Bush is halfway home. For the remaining year and a half he mainly has to dodge bullets, to make sure that any outbreaks of civil war or any attacks on U.S. troops are kept at a low intensity and spun dismissively in the media. It's unlikely he can pull it all off, but it's possible. If there is one thing the rest of the world would do well not to underestimate about the Americans, it is our uncannily inventive knack for deferring our troubles to another day.

Four more years?

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