A war for politics?

Posted: Mar 18, 2003 12:00 AM

President Bush needs better, more skilled political advisers. At least if you believe what many anti-war Democrats have been saying about the imminent invasion of Iraq -- it's all a political maneuver to advance Bush's political ambitions.

According to Democrats, it's pre-emptive "Wag the Dog." Presidential candidate John Kerry has charged that Bush asked Congress to authorize force last year in "a conscious decision to bring that up and to dominate the discussion with Iraq." James Carville has accused Bush of offering "distractions like a possible war with Iraq instead of real solutions."

Al Sharpton has called the entire Iraq effort "a political attempt of mass distraction," a charge echoed by celebrities from Michael Moore to Woody Allen (who has "the disturbing impression that [Bush] is persisting for personal and political reasons").

Let's get this straight:

For politics, Bush has undertaken an action in the Middle East that sent the price of gas from under

$1 a gallon to close to $2 a gallon (most U.S. recessions during the past 30 years have been partly caused by a surge in the price of gas).

For politics, he has created prewar anxiety that has depressed the stock market significantly -- by as much as 35 percent, according to Forbes magazine publisher Steve Forbes.

For politics, he has spent months talking of little else but Iraq -- not popular GOP issues like taxes or welfare reform -- in an attempt to keep a reluctant, if not unsympathetic, American public on board with his plans.

For politics, he has largely neglected selling his economic program in Congress, letting it languish even as economic worries, and the sense that the country is on the "wrong track," grows.

For politics, he has committed to spend tens of billions of dollars to wage war in Iraq and then rebuild the country, swelling the budget deficit that is one of the Democrats' foremost talking points.

For politics, he has prompted tens of thousands of protesters to take to the streets in the United States, and millions the world over, to mock him and malign his name.

For politics, he has created loud, and embarrassing, disagreements with European allies such as France and Germany.

For politics, he has ordered countless thousands of Americans in the military reserves to leave their families and their jobs to decamp in the desert of Kuwait.

For politics, he has staked all on a war in Iraq that could go catastrophically wrong and wreck his presidency.

Where's Karl Rove when you need him? If President Bush is waging war out of political self-interest, he is engaged in the most poorly conceived effort at political manipulation ever. There would be much easier ways to boost his political standing -- say, "focusing like a laser" on the American economy, posing as the savior of Social Security, or spending lots of money on popular domestic initiatives.

The war will certainly win public approval if it's successful. But if something goes wrong, Bush could look like a conservative version of Jimmy Carter after Desert One. Even victory could be discounted by November 2004. Successful wartime leaders often lost when the sense of emergency ended, whether it was Winston Churchill after World War II or Bush the Elder after Gulf War I.

Bush is ready to invade Iraq for exactly the reasons that he has stated: to protect America's security in the post-9-11 world, and to forge a new Middle East. Is it bold? Yes. Is it risky? Yes. Is it a cheap political ploy? Obviously not.

Democrats make such a risible charge for the same reason they have advanced so many other shabby arguments on the war. They need something, anything, to say about Iraq at a time when the party is inflicted with a near-total inability to think seriously about matters of war and peace.

Their criticism is not just wrong, but small-minded and cynical. America at the moment is blessed with a president who -- whatever else you think of him -- is neither of those things.