Monday, September 20, 2004

Betting on confusion

pv vivekanand

GEORGE W Bush is betting on the American people's
confusion over the outcome so far of his war against
terrorism to see him through to another four years at
the White House. Bush's challenger John Kerry's
scathing criticism, citing the administration's
failure to remove the threat of terrorism in the US,
is at best dented since there has been no extremist
attack in the US since the Sept.11, 2001 air assaults.

Most Americans have difficulty in judging whether the
Bush administration succeeded or failed in its
anti-terror campaign.
On the internal front, the majority of Americans seem
to believe that the campaign has so far been fairly
successful, notwithstanding the fears that senior
administration officials have been drumming up of an
impending Al Qaeda attack in the US.
On the external front, it is not lost on the US
electorate that removing the Taliban from power in
Afghanistan and ousting the Saddam Hussein regime in
Iraq has not brought down the level of threats that
the Americans face outside their country.
The Americans are aware of the administration's
failure to capture Osama Bin Laden and his top aides
and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. However, in the
absence of any terror attacks within the US since
9/11, they seem to be satisfied with the performance
of the Bush White House so far in this context.
If indeed, the administration could capture Bin Laden
and parade him for the benefit of the public (as the
Americans did with Saddam Hussein) ahead of the
elections, then it would seal the outcome of the polls
in favour of Bush. At this juncture, it could not be
ruled out either.
On Iraq, the president is coming under increasing
criticism. A commentary carried by the Washington Post
pinpointed where he went wrong and is going wrong in
the American perspective.
"His description of Iraq is bland to the point of
dishonesty," it said on Sunday, adding that Bush has
been saying "despite ongoing acts of violence," Iraq
has a strong prime minister, a national council and
that it will hold elections in January.
"Not only has Mr. Bush not said how, or whether, he
intends to respond to the worsening situation - he
doesn't really admit it exists," the Post said. "This
duck-and-cover strategy may have its political
advantages, but it is also deeply irresponsible and
potentially dangerous," it said.
Notwithstanding such criticism, the reality that the
US has only reaped more hostility and enmity from the
anti-terror war and that the Bush administration
resorted to deception and false intelligence to
justify the war against Iraq has not yet dealt a
serious blow to Bush's re-election prospects. That is
what we could judge from the lead that Bush has shown
in recent opinion polls.
Otherwise, the situation in the ground in Iraq and
Afghanistan and the worsening strife in both countries
should have damaged Bush beyond repair ahead of the
elections in November.
In Afghanistan, the situation is fluid ahead of that
country's first post-war presidential elections in
October. The country remains largely lawless in many
parts where warlords with conflicting agendas reign
supreme. The Taliban seem to be regrouping and gaining
strength. The attack last week on the helicopter
carrying President Hamid Karzai was the best evidence
of the uncertain security situation there.
In Iraq, two weeks of murderous attacks by insurgents
as well as the US-led coalition forces have underlined
the truth that control of the country is drifting
farther from the US military and its allies there.
Without dramatic action that would result in massive
civilian casualties, the US would not be able to
prepare the ground for Iraqi elections in January.
However, Bush re-election strategists are also aware
that images of massacres in Iraqi towns which resist
the US presence in the country would detrimental to
Bush if they are flashed to the Americans before
Probably that is why they have opted to give an
impression through the US military that an assault on
insurgent-controlled areas like Fallujah, Ramadi,
Baqouba, Samarra and others would come only after the
November elections, perhaps as late as December.
Again, it could easily be predicted that insurgent
attacks against American and allied forces in Iraq
would go up dramatically in the run-up to the
elections, leaving the US strategists no option to
but to retaliate with a heavy hand.
Obviously, there is no consensus or agreement among
the various groups fighting the coalition forces in
Iraq on what strategy to follow.
If it was left to Al Qaeda, that is, of course, if the
group has its own political strategists, then it is a
safe bet that it would follow a course that would
ensure that Bush returns to the White House for a
second term. For, only then Al Qaeda would continue to
benefit from mounting Arab and Muslim anger over the
US policies, particularly in the Palestinian and Iraq
The other groups — Saddam loyalists, independent and
Sunni factions and Iraqi "nationalists" as well as
"foreign Islamists" —  taking part in the guerrilla
war against the coalition forces are hoping to wear
down the US military into leaving the country.
Ironically, most of them do not seem to have realised
that quitting Iraq is not an American option.
However, it is unlikely that they would call off their
war even if they did realise that maintaining control
over Iraq and building a powerful American advance
base in the Gulf to deal with any eventuality is a
strategic objective of the US.
In any event, Kerry seems to be rolling up his
sleeves to fight Bush where the incumbent president is
deemed vulnerable by his election strategists:
Exposing that Bush has taken the US deeper into abyss
of international hostility that is the breeding
ground for extremist threats against Americans and
thus he failed in his war against terrorism.
Kerry has six weeks to thrust home his message to the
American people, and a lot could happen in those weeks
that could work either way. But, in a conservative
perception, six weeks is too short a period to swing
American voters except without a mighty weapon, and
the current resident of the White House is better
equipped to wield  whatever that might be than his