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BTL: Bush's Iraq War Plan Linked to Elections

BTL: Bush's Iraq War Plan Directly Linked to Elections

The radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines


Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 30, 2002


Critics Charge Bush's Iraq War Plan Directly Linked to Congressional November Elections

Interview conducted by Scott Harris

The White House campaign to garner public support for a new war against Iraq, launched during the summer, quickly overshadowed most other domestic and foreign policy issues facing the U.S. The call for war has effectively pushed coverage of the sputtering economy and corporate crime scandals off the front pages of newspapers and to the margins of TV news shows.

Statements made earlier this year by White House political director Karl Rove indicate that the Bush Administration's demand for war is very much connected to this November's important midterm congressional election, where control of the closely divided House and Senate are at stake.

The White House is now working hard to secure both U.N. and congressional resolutions authorizing the automatic use of force if Iraq fails to fully cooperate with international weapons inspectors. But Baghdad's recent offer to allow inspectors back into Iraq without pre-condition has slowed down the march to war. The election victory of the Social Democratic-Green Party coalition in Germany -- a battle largely fought and won over opposition to U.S. Iraq war plans -- has also complicated the president's hope for wider international support.

By and large Democratic Party leaders have supported the Bush plan to invade Iraq. But former Vice President and White House candidate Al Gore surprised many when in a Sept. 23rd speech, he criticized the Bush Iraq policy for weakening the U.S. fight against terrorism and undermining international law. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with John Nichols, Washington correspondent with the Nation Magazine, who examines what he believes are the strategic political calculations behind the White House drive to launch a new U.S. war against Iraq.

John Nichols: Rest assured, all signals point to the current pressure for a war with Iraq being driven entirely by the election schedule. The Bush administration has looked very seriously at its realities. They are one seat away from control of the U.S. Senate. Most of the Senate races in play this year are in states which might be vulnerable to a sort of last-minute patriotic appeal: South Dakota, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina. They signaled early on they were going to try and make their fall campaign be about national security issues and in August, they started to rather ineptly ramp up a threat from Iraq -- a supposed threat. Now, as we're barely 40 days away from the election, it's all anybody's talking about. They've succeeded quite brilliantly.

Between The Lines: Certainly they didn't succeed in a vacuum. How have they been allowed to steal the agenda without much documentary proof of a new and imminent threat from Iraq?

John Nichols: Let's be clear. There is no proof whatsoever of a new threat. In fact, both U.S. Reps. John Murtha (D- Pa. and David Obey, (D-Wi.) the two savviest members of the House on intelligence issues -- the third being Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) from Florida -- both Murtha and Obey have said in the last few days they have read all intelligence reports regarding Iraq for the last several years, every one that's come through. They have access to them and there has been no change in the CIA, State Department, Defense Department analyses of threats posed by Iraq. There is no new threat. It does not exist. So once we accept the reality that this is a completely manufactured moment, then we ask, "How did they succeed?"

Well, the fact of the matter is, our media in this country no longer covers the Defense Department's wars whatsoever. We have no independent analysis of what it's doing; by and large; certainly mainstream media analysis doesn't exist. And secondly, mainstream media doesn't cover politics. They may create the façade of political coverage with reports on a candidate appearing someplace or a political party having a convention. But the serious coverage of what's really going on in political campaigns and in political maneuvering has been ceded by network television and virtually all major daily newspapers with the possible exception of the New York Times or the Washington Post. But even they have become stunningly casual in their coverage about what's really been going on.

Between The Lines: It seems that the Democratic Party, with a few recent exceptions, has really been silent -- or acquiesced totally to the Bush administration agenda here, thinking that their best shot at electoral advantage is in keeping their mouths shut.

John Nichols: That's exactly right. The Democratic Party has played this issue just as cynically as the Bush administration has. They want the fall election to be about economic issues. The Bush administration wants the fall election to be about national security issues. Each party is maneuvering and playing games. The Democrats initially thought that their best strategy was to try and neglect the issue altogether. That didn't work. The Bush people kept on pushing at it again and again, coming from every angle, finally using the U.N. gambit, which worked. Now the Democrats are forced into a situation in Congress where they know they're going to be faced with a vote. The response of leadership has essentially been to work with the Bush administration to try and nurture up a resolution that can get virtually unanimous support. The Bush administration is, obviously, arguing for very strong language; the Democratic leadership in Congress is asking for somewhat muted language. The end result is, whatever the final language of any resolution that comes through, it will be read by the Bush administration as a go-ahead to launch a war whenever they choose.

The disturbing fact is that even now, all appearances suggest that Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, is playing this entirely as a political issue, looking for how best to get out from under the issue and make it go away as quickly as possible. Gephardt in the House (is) doing much the same thing. What that means is, we're likely to have votes very rapidly on Iraq because Gephardt and Daschle just want it to go away. And they're willing to cede the constitutionally mandated congressional authority over the declaration of war as well as their constitutionally mandated advice and consent responsibilities in order to get in position for an election. A very disturbing phenomenon and one that honest players ought be furious with. They should be angry with the Bush administration for playing this as a purely political issue. They should be equally angry with the Democratic party for failing to challenge.

Read John Nichols' articles in the pages of The Nation magazine or online at


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Oct. 4, 2002


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