Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,
US President George W Bush has campaigned in one presidential contest (2004)
and two Congressional races (2002 and 2004) as a victorious "War President."
Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress chalked up one electoral victory
after another by comparing the White House occupant to Winston Churchill and
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mr. Bush was cast as a leader who was supposedly
leading America – and the Free World – in a global struggle against the terrorist
network led by Osama bin Laden and (allegedly) Saddam Hussein. Thrown in for
good measure were the Axis of Evil nations (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) attempting
to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to attack America and the West.
The rising nationalism that had swept America after 9/11 helped Mr. Bush and
the Republican Party rally voters round the President, the Flag and the Judeo-Christian
Civilization. Mr. Bush was proclaimed to be standing up against Islamo-Fascism,
wimpy Europeans, and the weak, spineless and godless Democrats.
The initial military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq helped to mobilize electoral
support for Mr. Bush and the Republicans, especially in the Red States in the
Midwest and the South and even to advance into Democratic territories in the
Blue States on the East and West Coast.
With Karl ("Boy Genius") Rove – Mr. Bush's "brain" and top political
aide – drawing the outline of an ambitious electoral strategy, the Republicans
seemed to be on their way to produce a major political realignment and to becoming
the permanent Majority Party. There were even some indications that traditional
Democratic demographic groups – women, African-Americans, Hispanic and Jews
– were drifting towards the Republicans.
Indeed, for the last five years it seemed as though Mr. Bush and the Republicans
had found that formula that would have allowed them to achieve an era of one-party
Republican rule in Washington – in the White House, Congress (Senate and House
of Representatives) and the Supreme Court.
The political pendulum in American politics has been swinging towards the political
right for 12 years after the Republican Revolution of 1994 cemented Republican
control over Capitol Hill.
Political analysts suggested that 9/11 and the ensuing war on terrorism helped
Mr. Bush accelerate that process and that the White House and Republican policies
– nationalism, unilateralism and militarism in foreign policy; and the growing
influence of the Christian Right – would dominate American politics in the coming
According to the then prevailing conventional wisdom, the Democrats were in
retreat and have become the permanent Minority Party.
The Republicans certainly helped to strengthen their hold over the House of
Representatives by gerrymandering Congressional districts which seemed to ensure
that Republican incumbents would be able to get reelected again, and again,
and again . . .
. . . Until, that is, on Tuesday when the Republicans in Congress came crushing
down as an anti-Bush and antiwar sentiment helped to produce a Democratic wave
that brought a swift end to the Republican Era and eroded the power of the War
In fact, it was the growing opposition of the American people to the war in
Iraq and to the way that it has been managed by the White House and the Pentagon
coupled with general voter disaffection over Mr. Bush's performance in office
and corruption in Congressional Republican ranks that seemed to be responsible
for the electoral upheaval.
The War President had failed to deliver a victory in Iraq and the Middle East.
He had failed to meet expectations that had been raised to the stratosphere
– about finding WMDs in Iraq, uncovering ties between Osama and Saddam, establishing
a stable democracy in Iraq, spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
And if you live by the sword, if you try to stoke up militant nationalism as
a way of winning an election, you shouldn't be surprised when a perception of
defeat on the battlefield in Iraq is translated into an electoral defeat at
Indeed, as most opinion polls have indicated, the Republicans lost the support
of the majority of independent and centrist-moderate voters. These voters' anger
at the war in Iraq led to the Republican loss of Senate seats in two critical
electoral states of Ohio and Pennsylvania and have also helped defeat middle-of-the-road
Republicans in the Northeast who have been punished for their ties to President
Bush whose approval ratings sank to the low thirties.
Many of these Republican candidates had tried to distance themselves from Mr.
Bush by refusing to campaign with him and even criticized his Iraq policy.
But sometimes even that didn't help: Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode
Island lost his seat despite the fact he had called for the resignation of Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
There is also no doubt that much of the anti-Republican mood has to do with
voter irritation with a political party that has been in power for such a long
time and the recognition that the Republican power in the White House needs
to be checked and balanced by the Democrat Congress.
While the new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is a leading member of the liberal
wing of the party, and "Clintonism," the enthusiasm for globalization led by
an American light touch continues to dominate Democratic ideology, one of the
interesting developments this year has been the election of conservative and
populist Democrats like Jim Webb in Virginia who is opposed to the war in Iraq
as well as to free trade policies.
Some analysts speculate that the elections could mark the start of the return
of conservatives, including Evangelical Christians, to the Democratic Party.
This antiwar, protectionist and populist mood among Democrats could clearly
weaken the chances of Senator Hillary Clinton – who had supported the decision
to go to war in Iraq – in winning her party's presidential nomination and plays
into the hands of other possible challengers.
Most important, the results of the elections are going to force the president
to "change the course" in Iraq.
On the one hand, Bush is facing the antiwar populist mood, a mini revolution,
represented by the Democratic electoral wave. On the other hand, the White House
occupant is being confronted by a rebellion by the foreign policy establishment
against his policy in Iraq.
Responding to pressure from the people and the elites, Bush has fired Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and replaced him with a respected member of the establishment,
The firing is probably the first step in a series of changes in personnel and
policy that are going to move the Bush Administration in the direction of the
more realist and internationalist approach to global affairs, including Iraq,
that was pursued by his father when he served in the White House.
The post-9/11 nationalism has given way to a growing recognition by the American
elites and public of the limits of US global and economic power. The War President
is going to become less of a warrior.
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