With Hurricane Rita threatening to make landfall on the Texas coast, you can
be sure that White House strategists are anxious to regain the ground they lost
in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. George W. Bush is no doubt awaiting his
cue to strike a heroic pose and replicate his post-9/11 "bullhorn moment," as he
stood in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Indeed, according to CNN (9/22/05), "Bush will fly to Texas and Colorado on
Friday to visit with emergency workers" and "get a firsthand look at the
preparations that are under way for Hurricane Rita." As expected, the White
House has denied this trip is "just a photo opportunity for the president," but
it is undeniable that more attention is being paid to Rita than to Katrina.
Why the urgency?
A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, released this week, suggests that this
administration’s response to the New Orleans disaster might have breached the
levee of Mr. Bush’s public support. The floodwaters of disapproval surrounding
the White House are a toxic mix of distrust and dissatisfaction about Katrina,
Iraq, and governmental priorities.
Some specifics, from USA Today (9/20/05): "For the first time, a majority
says he isn’t a strong and decisive leader. Bush’s overall approval rating is
40%, equaling a previous low. His disapproval is 58%, a new high…A 54% majority
says the best way for the government to pay for hurricane relief is by cutting
spending for the war. Just 6% support spending cuts in domestic programs, as
Bush has suggested. Nearly two-thirds of those polled, 63%, say some or all of
the U.S. troops in Iraq should be withdrawn. A record-high 59% say it was a
mistake to invade." The most devastating news for Mr. Bush? His nationally
televised speech about relief efforts backfired: "Assessments of Bush on the
hurricane dipped after the speech: 56% say he has taken steps to help victims
mostly for political reasons, not because he cares about them."
Bush & Co. will attempt to mend the damage courtesy of Hurricane Rita,
with photo ops and stirring rhetoric. They’ll promise billions in borrowed
funds, added to the exploding federal deficit. But withdraw the troops from
Iraq? "That’s not going to happen on my watch," Mr. Bush insisted today. "[T]o
leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to
the attacks of September the 11th, 2001." It’s worth noting that this statement
tries to create the impression of a link between Saddam’s Iraq and the 9/11
attacks; on closer observation, Mr. Bush is not offering a justification for
invading Iraq - just a rationale for not leaving Iraq. In other
words: We’re caught in a quagmire, and we intend to stay.
In 2003, you’ll recall, Mr. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq -
the war had been won. But Americans kept dying, and Americans kept killing.
Almost two years later, Vice President Cheney assured us that the insurgency was
"in the last throes." Now Bush warns us that "As Iraqis prepare to vote on their
constitution in October and elect a permanent government in December, we must be
prepared for more violence."
What are we to make of these contradictions? Perhaps we should go full circle
and listen to Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, who cautions us that America
will not win the war in Iraq: "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six,
eight, ten or twelve years. Coalition forces, foreign forces, are not going to
repress that insurgency. We’re going to create an environment that the Iraqi
people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency."
The last time America had this type of military policy, it was called
Vietnamization. And we all know how that turned out.
While Katrina may prove to be the turning point in the Bush presidency, we
must stop to consider what this tells us about our fellow Americans. George W.
Bush failed to protect this country from the 9/11 attackers and has failed to
capture Osama bin Laden. George W. Bush lied his way into an illegal war in
Iraq, slaughtering thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi
civilians. The national debt has increased by $1.2 trillion under George
W. Bush, a massive burden for our children and grandchildren. The rate of
poverty in America has increased every year under George W. Bush.
But only now - post-Katrina - do we see a majority of Americans questioning
whether Bush is a "strong and decisive leader." Perhaps the citizens of this
country have reacted to the visions of death and despair in New Orleans - and
have recognized Mr. Bush’s culpability and callousness. Such an assessment,
however, does not explain why the same response was not generated by the
suffering Mr. Bush induced more directly in Iraq.
One might suggest that many Americans have a patriotic sense of compassion;
they traditionally discount the value of non-American lives.
A more cynical observer might point out that as the price of gasoline went
up, the president’s approval rating went down.
Perhaps it’s as simple as that.