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July 5, 2006

Nationalism: The Last Refuge of the Political Loser

The GOP's nationalist agenda may
lead to electoral victory

by Leon Hadar

It seems like only yesterday American pundits were writing political obituaries for President George W. Bush and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill. With the anti-American violence in Iraq showing no signs of ending any time soon and helping to force Mr. Bush's approval ratings in the public opinion polls to the low 30s, the consensus among political analysts in Washington was that the Republicans would suffer a major blow in the coming mid-term congressional elections in November.

Indeed, some observers speculated that if the opposition Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, they would not only launch investigations into the Bush administration's conduct in the events leading to the decision to attack Iraq, but they might even consider taking steps to impeach the current White House occupant.

This doomsday scenario (from the Republican perspective) seems less likely now that President Bush and the Republicans have decided to embrace an aggressive nationalist agenda aimed at igniting more fear of The Terrorists (or anyone who looks and sounds like The Terrorists) and hostility toward those who allegedly appease The Terrorists, including the "liberal" press and the Democrats.

Effective Strategy

The strategy promoted by Mr. Bush's top political aide Karl Rove (who contrary to earlier expectations won't be tried for perjury; another piece of good news for the Republicans), which seemed to have worked quite effectively during the 2004 mid-term elections and the 2006 general election, could probably help the Republicans hang on to power in Congress while providing the War President with an opportunity to rally the American voters behind him. In a way, the killing of terrorist gang leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ended up as the opening shot of sorts in the Bush administration's nationalist campaign. His death and the formation of a new Iraqi government helped to produce another we-are-turning-the-tide-in-Mesopotamia media spin that was crowned by Mr. Bush's visit to Baghdad's Green Zone.

It was a bit ironic that the White House moved ahead in promoting its contention that we-are-winning-the-war-on-terrorism at the same time that that war seemed to suffer major setbacks in both Afghanistan and Somalia, where radical Islamic guerillas were on the offensive.

Well, never mind. The Bushies and the Republican forces on Capitol Hill were themselves on the offensive, politically speaking, charging that the Democrats who were urging that the Bush administration start setting a timeline for withdrawing the U.S. troops from Iraq were in favor of "cutting and running" – one Republican lawmaker accused the Democrats of supporting a "cutting-and-jogging" strategy – that supposedly will play into the hands of the "terrorists." So in a demonstration of nationalist histrionics, the Republicans forced Congress to adopt a resolution expressing solidarity with the men and women fighting in Iraq and opposition to setting a deadline for withdrawal. And a few days after the resolution had passed, the commander of the U.S. forces proposed such a deadline for withdrawal.

Well, never mind. This let's-not-stab-our-troops-in-the-back and let's-rally-behind-our-War-President Republican-induced frenzy was also stirred up through a fierce, and somewhat nasty, attack by the White House and Capitol Hill Republicans on The New York Times and other publications for revealing several government surveillance programs.

The Times revealed programs to track terrorist financing by monitoring international banking system and to secretly monitor, without a court warrant, thousands of telephone calls made by Americans. Some Republican lawmakers and pro-administration pundits have even accused the Times of "treason" and proposed that its editors be jailed.

The Times and other news organizations have argued that their conduct was a legitimate (and legal) effort to bring public attention to a continuing (and illegal) attempt by the Bush administration to increase its powers in a way that violates basic civil rights.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to have reached a similar conclusion when it repudiated the U.S. military commissions for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a ruling last Thursday, suggesting that after a long deference to the executive branch, the court is starting to check or question the Bush administration's attempts to broaden the wartime power of the presidency.

Well, never mind. The Bush administration also seems to be trying to fan fears of terrorism by making dramatic announcements about new discoveries of alleged terrorist cells in the United States, like the recent arrest of a group of Miami-based men whom the government accused of concocting a plot to kill "all the devils we can," starting by blowing up Chicago's Sears Tower.

Obscure Group

But according to press reports, the men were members of a tiny and obscure religious group, some of whom were entrapped by government informants to fantasize about imaginary plots. They certainly didn't have the arms and equipment to blow up targets.

Well, never mind – the point is that this kind of be-afraid-very-afraid strategy could work, especially if it's followed by never-ending red alerts and leaks about foiled terrorist plots.

Indeed, the most recent opinion polls suggest that the Bush administration's political jihad against the defeatist Democrats and the treasonous Times coupled with the highlighting of the "tipping points" in Iraq may be working.

Mr. Bush seems to be gaining a few points in the public opinion polls as voters conclude that the Republicans are more effective in fighting terrorism than the Democrats. By November, these sentiments could translate into a Republican victory, especially as the leaderless and clueless Democrats fail to come up with an alternative policy that could win voters' support.

Copyright © 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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  • Leon Hadar is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). He is the former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post and is currently the Washington correspondent for the Singapore Business Times. Visit his blog.

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