Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted for lying about his involvement in revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent to the news media. Why would Libby purposely blow the cover of Valerie Plame and then deny doing it? It was probably intended to teach a lesson to her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and to warn any other potential whistleblowers to remain silent. The Bush White House played hardball and didn’t care how many people it hurt. Any of Ms. Plame’s undercover contacts could have been in danger.
What had Joseph Wilson done to deserve the vengeance of the Bush-Cheney-Karl Rove administration? He went public with information the administration didn’t want the American people to know. Among the 950 documented lies and distortions by the administration to get the U.S. into a war with Iraq was this: Saddam Hussein attempted to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger to advance plans to build a nuclear weapon. Joseph Wilson had investigated this possibility and reported to them that it wasn’t true. After George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, Wilson told the truth in an op-ed column in The New York Times.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld infamously stated, “The truth is irrelevant,” and that pretty well summed up the attitude of the administration. However, one of the most incredible statements that Rumsfeld made was in response to a soldier’s question about inadequate equipment. Mr. Rumsfeld answered, “You go to war with the army you have, not the one you want.” Since he clearly knew this was a war of choice and not a war of last resort, why didn’t Rumsfeld insist on waiting until the equipment our soldiers needed was ready before we invaded? The U. N. inspectors were allowed back into Iraq to look for the alleged weapons of mass destruction. They were doing their jobs and were finding nothing. What was so urgent? Why invade Iraq when we did? What did the White House not want us to know? The explanation can be found by looking at a few historical precedents.
Just before his death in November 1963, President John F. Kennedy concluded that the U. S. needed to get out of Vietnam while the war there was not yet out of control. The catch was that he knew he had to wait until after his re-election in November 1964. If he pulled our troops out before then, he would be accused by Republican and Southern Democratic opponents of being soft on communism and hurt his chances of a second term. Hence, for the sake of getting re-elected, he left our troops there, and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, escalated the war.
Richard Nixon was elected by a very slim margin in 1968, and he did it with a vague promise to end the unpopular war in Vietnam. Nixon could have done what Eisenhower did after his 1952 election: Ike made a deal and quickly ended the Korean War. However, Nixon was not personally popular like Ike. The general who had won the war in Europe during WWII could get re-elected as president regardless of the job he did during his first term. That was not the case with Nixon.
Nixon understood that voters expected him to answer this question: “What have you done for us lately?” Being totally disinterested in domestic policy, he needed to use the war to assure his re-election in 1972. To do this, he gave a name to the policy that had never worked from the time Eisenhower sent our first advisors to South Vietnam. He called it “Vietnamization.” The U. S. would train the South Vietnamese army to be self-sufficient so American troops could be brought home. Sound familiar?
Nixon would go on prime time television every few months to remind the viewers “what he was doing for them lately.” He would remind them that when he was elected there had been over 500,000 troops in Vietnam. He would then lie about how the success of Vietnamization allowed him to proudly announce that he was bringing home another 20,000 or 30,000 American troops – the numbers varied with each telecast. It worked. Once he was re-elected, he made a deal with North Vietnam for the U. S. to get out. More than 35,000 Americans had died in Vietnam while Nixon pursued that re-election policy. Shortly after Nixon resigned from office, North Vietnam quickly overran South Vietnam. It was as if we had never been there.
George H. W. Bush (President #41) gambled his re-election in 1992 on the success of the 1st Gulf War. His finest hour in foreign policy as president was his creation of the multinational alliance that opposed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Less commendable was his decision to launch the attack on the Iraqi army before Russia could complete its negotiations to get Saddam to peacefully withdraw. Nevertheless, the attack was successful, and he did stop it at the Iraqi border. Bush 41 hoped that bringing the troops home in stages, with homecoming parades each time, would be enough to remind the voters what he had done for them “earlier.” It wasn’t enough. The war was over, and his neglect of the economy defeated him.
George W. Bush and his neo-conservative advisers learned from his father’s failure and from Nixon’s success. He was having the worst record on unemployment of any president since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression. He was also establishing the worst environmental record since before Theodore Roosevelt. In addition, Mr. Bush was destroying Clinton’s surpluses and was returning the nation to Reagan’s and his father’s record deficits and exploding national debt. He also eagerly jumped at the first opportunity to limit the civil liberties of all Americans with the intentionally misnamed PATRIOT Act. And he was determined to continue these irresponsible policies regardless of their disastrous consequences! So what was Bush 43 going to do to get re-elected? He needed a war!
The best thing that happened to Mr. Bush during his first two years was Osama Bin Laden’s attacks on 9/11. That distracted voters’ attention from his domestic misrule. The resulting invasion of Afghanistan, which had provided havens for Osama’s Al Qaida, ended too soon to be used for the 2004 presidential election. The existence of Osama and the threat of another attack was the only hope Bush and Cheney had for winning in 2004. But those issues might not have worked because they were a daily reminder that Osama had been allowed to escape. By the way, the rumor that Osama was being wined and dined in a lavishly furnished underground bunker on a ranch in Crawford, TX, was completely unfounded – not one eyewitness ever came forward.
Without another terrorist attack on U. S. soil, Mr. Bush’s best chance for re-election was to instigate a war against a known tyrant who could be easily defeated. Sadly, the preparation for the war in Iraq went into assembling misleading evidence to justify the invasion. No thought was given on what to do if insurgents began to retaliate. By the time of the Election of 2004, the American body count was up to 2000, but the primary goal was achieved: Mr. Bush got his second term in office.
by David Offutt
This is a slightly revised version of an essay that was published November 5, 2005, in the El Dorado News-Times.