Iraq and US Congressional Elections

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On his trip to Europe, President Bush not only sought to assuage European concerns over the war on terror, but also attempted to win over much needed European support to put a positive spin on his Iraq policy.

During the visit he made a number of reconciliatory gestures to his European hosts. He expressed his “deep desire" to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and conceded that his response to the September 11 terrorist attacks had not been understood by much of the continent. In Budapest, Bush held up Hungary’s failed 1956 uprising against communism and the nation’s subsequent journey to democracy as an example for Iraq.

However, a renewed charm offensive in Europe is not going to be enough to win over the sceptical European public. A poll published recently by the Pew Research Centre based in the US suggested that a record majority of Europeans held a negative view of the US. A Harris poll published last week emphasised that most Europeans considered the US a bigger threat to world peace than Iran, North Korea or China.

Was Bush really trying to woo the Europeans or was trying to bolster support back home for his beleaguered Iraq policy.

Reversing US public support for the Iraq war is central to both Bush’s survival and that of his party. The Iraq war has dragged Bush’s approval ratings to below 36% and has fuelled dissent in the rank and file of the Republican Party. No doubt this issue is going to play a significant role in the fortunes of the Republican Party in the upcoming US congressional elections.

Bush’s trip to Europe is part of a broad initiative aimed at the American public that has a simple message–” Bush is finally turning the corner in Iraq and beating back America’s nemesis al-Qaeda.

This initiative began several months ago when Bush made superficial changes to his administration. Bush appointed new faces to the post of Chief of Staff, Press Secretary, Director of the Interior and Office of Management and Budget and other positions. But the real architects of the post 9/11 world like Cheney and Rumsfeld remain unscathed by the changes. Bush’s brain Karl Rove was relieved of his policy portfolio to concentrate on long-term strategy and planning for a November midterm election. But despite this, Rove still remains a close confidant of the President.

Next followed the planned killing of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Bush’s surprise visit to Iraq where he met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Bush’s visit was timely, as Prime Minister Maliki finally filled the three top positions in his cabinet: the ministries of defence, security and the interior. After Bush’s departure, Maliki promptly announced a huge security crackdown in Baghdad involving 70,000 Iraqi security forces and declared that “this is the beginning of the end of al-Qaeda”. This was then quickly followed by the unveiling of a national reconciliation plan accompanied by a release of 500 Iraqi prisoners from Abu Ghraib.

On the home front, the US Senate handily defeated two Democratic resolutions on the Iraq war. One, offered by Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, called for US withdrawal by July 2007. Another non binding resolution, by Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, called for US troop redeployment to begin by the end of this year.

These events were portrayed by the Whitehouse as positive developments that would eventually lead to the exit of American troops from Iraq. But behind the fanfare no timetable for withdrawal was mentioned

Amongst this background, the FBI arrested several al-Qaeda linked suspects for thinking about how to plan the destruction of America’s tallest building in Chicago. Again the Whitehouse described the development as a major victory against al-Qaeda.

The schemed devised by the Whitehouse to win over public support is a repeat of the one employed in the months prior to the US General election in 2004. Then the Whitehouse used Pakistan to deliver a number of high profile al-Qaeda figures, foiled plans to attack America and over exaggerated the political situation in Iraq. Today’s rerun is similar in many respects; al-Qaeda’s back is broken, Iraq’s government stable, and the American public is frightened as ever.

The problem for Bush this time around is that the state of affairs in Iraq has only provided a temporary respite. There is a strong chance that the Republicans will do poorly at the forthcoming elections in November.

If this transpires then it will leave the Bush Presidency in permanent paralysis for the remainder of his tenure. Bush will be unable to make any headway domestically or internationally. This will leave the America in a perilous situation bereft of a government that carries political weight.

At that juncture there will be some supporters of Bush who will be planning to oust him or the vice president and the secretary of defence from office–” perhaps all of them. Either way there is no easy way out for America’s ruling establishment. Iraq is and will prove to be America’s strategic blunder–” one that the New Roman Empire will not be able recover from.

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