Reality Is Unravelling For Bush
Even Negative Attacks On Kerry No Longer Seem To Be Working

By Sidney Blumenthal
The Guardian - UK
At the Pentagon, on June 10, while business in Washington had officially halted as the body of Ronald Reagan lay in state, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld convened an emergency meeting on the Abu Ghraib scandal, according to a reliable source privy to its proceedings. Rumsfeld began the extraordinary session by saying that certain documents needed to "get out" that would show that there was no policy approving of torture and that what had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan was aberrant.
The Senate armed services committee had been conducting hearings whose corrosive impact needed to be countered. Rumsfeld complained about "serial requests" for information from Congress. Yet he was even more upset by subpoenas of defence officials issued by the special prosecutor in the case of Valerie Plame. The Pentagon, Rumsfeld said, was nearly "at a stop" because of them. Rumsfeld admitted he was startled by the uproar over Abu Ghraib: "There are so many international organisations."
On June 22, the White House released documents on policy on torture, including a directive signed on February 7 2002 by Bush stating that he has "the authority under the constitution" to abrogate the Geneva conventions, that the Taliban and al-Qaida as non-signatories were not covered by them, and that consequently Bush "declines to exercise that authority at this time". Rumsfeld's damage control was simply one front in the expanding Bush administration war for credibility.
Vice-president Dick Cheney staged a preemptive strike last week by reiterating that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida had a relationship and insinuating that they were in league. His intended target was the 9/11 commission, which is dangerously independent. Its Republican co-chairman, Thomas Kean, replied that there was "no credible evidence" that Saddam and al-Qaida had collaborated. Bush entered the battle, repeating that there was indeed a "relationship". Then the Democratic co-chairman of the commission, Lee Hamilton, explained that al-Qaida had in fact approached Saddam seeking his help, but that it had been rebuffed. The rejection was the relationship. But Bush and Cheney's affirmative assertions made it seem that the "relationship" was affirmative.
The urgency of Bush's credibility crisis surfaced in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showing the collapse of Bush's standing on terrorism, losing 13 points since April, putting Kerry even on the issue and one point ahead in the contest. But even more worrying was Bush's rating on trust. By a margin of 52% to 39%, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy.
Since March 3, the Bush-Cheney campaign has spent an estimated $80m on mostly negative advertising, to eliminate Kerry at the starting gate. The strategy was the acceleration of the lesson of Bush's father's victorious effort in the 1988 campaign when, 17 points behind in mid-summer, he shattered Michael Dukakis with a withering negative attack.
Now, Bush's opponent is not only moving ahead, but the failed assault may insulate Kerry against future offensives. Bush had every reason to believe that his attack on Kerry's image would succeed. After September 11, he was able to impose his explanations on the public almost without resistance and to taint anyone who contradicted them as somehow unpatriotic.
With Congress in Republican hands, checks and balances were effectively removed. Most of the media was on the bandwagon or intimidated. Cheney himself called the president of the corporation that owned one of the networks to complain about an errant commentator. Political aides directed by Karl Rove ceaselessly called editors and producers with veiled threats about access that was not granted in any case. The press would not bite the hand that would not feed it.
But Bush's projection of images can only faintly be seen on the screen, which is overwhelmed with Bush's past images of triumph unreeling in reverse. The majority of the people had supported the war in Iraq because they believed that Saddam was involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11. Bush envisioned the Iraqi war unfolding into a new world order: the liberation of Iraq resembling the liberation of France, democracy flowering throughout the Middle East, and the Palestinians submitting quietly to Sharon's fait accompli .
But the neoconservative prophesies had been advanced by suppressing the scepticism of the US intelligence agencies, the military and the state department. Without deranging and dismissing the professionalism of the basic institutions of national security, Bush would not have been able to sustain his reasons. Bush's battle is not with image, but with the unravelling of his reality.
- Sidney Blumenthal is former senior adviser to President Clinton and Washington bureau chief of
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004,3604,1245877,00.html



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