Bush bluffs at threat of war with Iraq

John Troyer

On Jan. 14, President George W. Bush held a short photo opportunity with Polish President Kwasniewski in the Oval Office of the White House. Both heads of state answered a few questions from journalists about current events. The last question for Bush regarded suggestions by U.N. weapons inspectors that more time will be needed to complete their examination of Iraq. Bush responded to the query by saying: “Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. He must disarm. I’m sick and tired of games and deception. And that’s my view of timetables.”

These comments come as no surprise, and I believe Bush has repeatedly made it clear where he stands on the topic of more time when discussing Iraq. I also think Bush is talking tough like a Texan but not really committed to a war with Iraq. Simply stated, I do not believe, nor have I believed since October 2002, that the Bush administration will invade Iraq.

Before I am cast out by readers of my column to the left and to the right, here is my rationale for such a preposterous suggestion. The buildup of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf, the use of weapons inspectors from United Nations and the warlord rhetoric from Bush functions to obscure the policies quietly being implemented by the current White House administration. More smoke screen than actual plan, the Bush administration is using the public uncertainty and outright paranoia about an imminent terrorist threat to legitimate abuses of power. In extremely real terms, the Bush administration has effectively used the war on terrorism and the “almost-could-be-any-minute-now-war” with Iraq to implement socially conservative, if not outright theocratic, government policies. Whether it’s funding religious groups with federal money, violating habeas corpus rules in the courts for U.S. citizens, or pulling information about condom use from government Web sites about HIV/AIDS, the Bush administration will stop at nothing to appease socially conservative constituents. These points made, I am not surprised in the least by the actions of the Bush administration since the president himself owes the presidency to a well-funded and orchestrated Florida recount campaign run by affluent, social conservatives in the election debacle of 2000. Bush is more effectively playing a game of quid pro quo than foreign policy brinksmanship.

Now, the real question should be why the Bush administration would want to use the specter of war as a rather unseemly tool for a political agenda. The answer seems fairly apparent – a wartime president or a president on the brink of war can say anything to get anything and a vast number of U.S. citizens will follow to the cliff’s edge. Recent public protests about Bush administration policies and the looming war are, in my mind, a delayed response to the election debacle of November 2000. In a sense, the Bush administration has used the war most effectively against the U.S. left by making liberal politicians look weak – when they’re not – and focused the energy of many hardworking people on the specter of a war I do not think is coming. These public demonstrations are good, I believe, in finally jarring large portions of the population awake and out of the intellectual complacency of the last few years.

To be clear, I am not suggesting a vast conspiratorial web on the part of the Bush administration but a fairly straightforward game of politics. I have a certain Machiavellian respect for how effectively the Bush administration uses the Office of the President as a rhetorical curtain. Time and time again, the always-folksy words coming from the Bush’s mouth do not match the policy decisions attached to that Texas drawl. Since most U.S. citizens only hear the sound bytes and rarely look into the banality of policy, the Bush administration is capitalizing on a public more concerned with waiting for someone finally to be killed on a reality-based TV program than watching the “News Hour” on PBS.

Within the banality of policy details is a White House I see becoming more and more concerned about winning the 2004 presidential election. I believe a sins-of-the-father complex clings to this Bush administration forcing a prolonged rhetorical war and nothing more. Imminent danger is always a good way to distract the public’s attention from domestic issues – something most U.S. presidents have used at various times.

Two important dates come to pass next week. On Jan. 27, the U.N. weapons inspectors delivered an initial report and on Jan. 28, Bush will deliver the State of the Union Address. I believe the U.N. inspectors will say they need more time and cooperation from Iraq. I also believe the will make a tough-sounding speech next Tuesday where he explains the United States is ready to fight but the United Nations should be given more time, although that time is really, really, really running out for Hussein. The word “evil” will of course be used throughout the speech, but I’m not sure how many times or attached to which countries. The build up of troops in the Persian Gulf will be explained as a necessary step towards the war on something, anything really, since the current Bush White House needs Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, etc., to legitimate itself as protecting U.S. people. The Bush White House has demonstrated a growing addiction to boogey men in distant parts of the world, dead or alive, who have an uncanny ability to pull the curtain back on a Pax Americana empire in decline.

At the risk of sounding too glib, I openly challenge the current Bush administration to actually go to war with Iraq instead of letting the entire country fall apart at the seams. Go to war now, make Bush Sr. proud, and then fix the domestic problems at hand. I am not a war-backer in the least, but I feel comfortable in calling what I believe is the Bush administration’s bluff. If time is really running out for Hussein, then he has until at least September 2004 to begin worrying. Twenty months from now the Bush camp will be heading into the final stretches of a presidential campaign riddled with problems here on the home front not so easily hidden by a fake war.

John Troyer’s biweekly columns appear alternate Fridays. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]