“A campaign of fear.” “Cheap spin, fear-mongering and deliberate mischaracterization of his critics.” “Shameful tactic.” “Close to delusional.”
These were editorial reactions of newspapers across the “heartland” last week as President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials launched a political offensive linking the Iraq war to the World War II battle against Nazism and accusing Democrats, and other critics, of “appeasement.”
As the nation contemplated the fifth anniversary of 9/11, continued violence in Iraq, and the approaching fall elections, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld campaign was widely scorned as a politically motivated effort to confuse and scare voters into keeping Republican control of Congress in the November elections.
The scathing editorials and a slew of polls suggest that the administration effort to play the national security card and intimidate opposition is not a “slam-dunk.”
On Aug. 30, just before Bush arrived in Salt Lake City for a speech to the American Legion convention there, Mayor Rocky Anderson, a Democrat, led more than 2,000 anti-Bush demonstrators on a march through the city. Anderson called Bush a “dishonest, warmongering, human-rights-violating president.” In 2004, Utah gave Bush a wider margin of victory than any other state.
The Salt Lake Tribune editorialized Aug. 31, “In their remarks to the American Legion convention this week in Salt Lake City, President Bush and his Cabinet members have made it clear that their efforts to boost the administration’s poll numbers and, more important, to maintain Republican control of Congress this November will be based on a campaign of fear.”
The paper assailed “a government that seeks to hold power, not by uniting us, but by making us afraid.”
A Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal editorial said, “The President’s resort to his old fight-them-there-or-fight-them-here refrain is close to delusional. By his own admission, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch commented, “No one is allowed to challenge this version of the truth, lest he be painted as an un-American media dupe of the sinister terrorist PR machine.”
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said in a Sept. 1 editorial, “Since the Red-baiting of the 1950s, Republicans have found votes in hyping foreign threats, playing on fears of subversives and invaders, and branding critics as soft on the ‘ism’ of the moment.”
“It’s a cynical ploy,” the Minneapolis paper said, “especially for an administration that has failed so profoundly to mount a coherent strategy against the true terror threat.”
In his Aug. 31 American Legion speech, Bush argued that the occupation of Iraq is “the central front” in a global war on terror including the World Trade Center terrorists and “home-grown terrorists” who “live quietly in free societies they dream to destroy.”
“As veterans,” he told the conventioneers, “you have seen this kind of enemy before. They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century.”
“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century,” Bush declared. “If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.”
In a speech at the same convention two days earlier, Rumsfeld spoke of “a sentiment” that “took root” after World War I that “growing threats … could be accommodated.” He said, “Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace.”
The new campaign appears to reflect Bush administration concern over the growing demand for a “separate peace” to pull the U.S. out of Iraq.
Polls show support for the Iraq war is at an all-time low, with nearly two-thirds opposing it. In a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 60 percent of Americans think the Iraq war has increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the U.S. Another poll showed 51 percent rejecting the idea that the war in Iraq is part of a broader war on terror.
In an open letter to President Bush on Labor Day, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 10 other leading congressional Democrats called for “beginning the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq before the end of this year.” They also called for firing Rumsfeld.
Judith Le Blanc, United for Peace and Justice co-chair, participated in a U.S. peace delegation that met with members of Iraq’s Parliament last month in Jordan. She said the Iraqis, representing various Sunni and Shiite political trends, told the group that what they want now is a U.S. decision to leave. Once that happens, steps can begin for organized withdrawal of troops, national reconciliation, and reconstruction of the economy, they said.
Congress is under increasing pressure to set a withdrawal timetable, said Le Blanc. “Republicans are the party that has been driving this war,” she said. “A change in the balance of forces in Congress” will send a message that people want an end to the occupation.