Posted by Lexington Green on September 25th, 2003 (All posts by Lexington Green)
But what if things come unglued in Iraq? What if law and order don’t return, and the present low level of violence starts to rise and become better organized? What if the body count among U.S. forces continues to increase? Won’t American public opinion demand a speedy retreat? And wouldn’t a retreat that left Iraq still undemocratic undercut the U.S. further?
The short answer is that if Iraqi violence continues to rise, at some point the administration would go to Plan B: Find a general, turn the place over to him and go home.
This of course sounds pretty horrible. But Mead has a point:
Elites would wring their hands, but voters would just shrug their shoulders. Poll after poll shows that Americans want democracy and human rights to spread around the world — but that they don’t want American combat troops to be caught in the crossfire. If Iraqis reject U.S. help to build a democracy, and Bush decides to bring the troops home, most voters will agree with his decision. They were willing to give this democracy-in-the-Middle-East idea a try — and they genuinely do hope it will work — but at the end of the day, they don’t want a war over it.
What Mead is getting at is that Bush’s core Jacksonian supporters are not happy with the way things are going. Mead wrote this in June. Now, in September, it is much worse. Jacksonians like me were not real happy that this war was even called “Operation Iraqi Liberation”, for example. I don’t think it would ever have been worth sending American troops in somewhere solely because they had a horrible government. That’s their problem. I think we should send our troops in somewhere because it is to the benefit of the United States that we do so. While we are at it, we should conduct ourselves with the practical idealism which we are known for. And the whole “where are the WMDs” business is happening at all because Bush and his crew felt the need to get U.N. support and talk about “resolutions” that were violated and all that hogwash. It didn’t work, of course. The people who care about that crap would never, ever support him. So, what should have been a footnote is now a disaster for Bush: the basis for his “legal” argument is missing.
In Bush’s efforts to put a Wilsonian cloak on this war, the focus on “legality” and “human rights” was an attempt to woo the very people who despise him, and he is losing his base as a result. When he announced the price tag to rebuild the place, he lost another huge slice of his supporters. Millions of people in this country absolutely loathe the idea of “foreign aid”. They angrily begrudge every cent spent abroad. Bush’s only hope to sell this program in Iraq would be to focus on American interests and what we get out of the lives and treasure being shovelled into the place. But Bush won’t play it that way.
Bush’s mistake was that instead of reading books by guys like Mead, he believed the two Steves — Ambrose and Spielberg and that Brokaw guy, too. These guys presented a vision of WWII which was incomplete and hence misleading. We have had a half-generation of people who have been taught that the GIs of WWII went forth to liberate a continent and restore freedom and democracy, and that this was a noble cause. That was true in part. But mostly they went because they were drafted, and after that it was to kick the shit of out of the Japs who bombed us and their pals the Nazis who declared war on us. These were the same people who watched Germany overrun Europe without blinking. That was far away and it was somebody else’s problem. Only when we were attacked did the American public care about the war.
Bush has attempted to sell this war and its aftermath to the wrong people for the wrong reasons and they’re not buying. The people who had supported him in a “war on terror” no longer support him in an expensive effort to build a modern, democratic Iraq, a sales pitch that would never have worked with them anyway.
It is probably too late for Bush to “just leave.” And, at this point, it probably doesn’t matter for him. Bush has lost his core political support at home as a result of these blunders, irrevocably I suspect, and unless he acts very decisively very soon in some very noticeable way, he is going to lose the 2004 election as a result.