THE BUSH KNIFE: DOOMSDAY MOOD IN WASHINGTON
By Marc Pitzke, New York
[This article originally published in: Spiegel, May 20, 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518.301198,00.html.]
With a new PR-campaign and six television addresses - one very week beginning tonight - US president George W. Bush hopes to climb out of the crisis hole. Observers have their doubts and already compare him with the election loser Jimmy Carter.
New York - Joseph Hoar, usually a cool, pragmatic military man, does not spare drama. "I am convinced that we are absolutely at the edge of failure", said the silver-haired general and former commander of all US troops in the Middle East: "We are looking at the abyss."
The depressing oracle of the veteran four-star general given last week to the Foreign Relations committee of the US Senate was not an exception. Larry Diamond, an ex-advisor of the US occupation in Iraq, only found one description for the situation: "hopeless".
The doomsday atmosphere prevails in Washington. "Even in the worst days of the Vietnam War", says Leslie Gelb, president of the "Council on Foreign Relations" and a well-informed observer of the capitol scene. " I never heard such dark defeatism as now both inside and outside the government."
POLITICAL-STRATEGIC EMERGENCY CALLED
Even the "Wall Street Journal" loyal to the government speaks of "incompetence" in the war against terror. The unshakable Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld shows cracks in his nerves. "He is not a man of self-doubt", a co-worker says. However Rumsfeld is slowly beginning to "doubt himself and others".
The White House now calls a political-strategic emergency. President George W. Bush wants to change the rudder with words more than deeds. Six television addresses - one very week until the planned transfer of power in Iraq - will be beamed live at a prime US broadcast time to the living rooms of the nation. The message that the "Washington Post" unmasked as a "strictly orchestrated PR-campaign" seeks "to divert attention from the latest setbacks". The media offensive is flanked by a new UN resolution draft on Iraq that Bush will circulate this week in the Security Council.
Bush's attempt to win back sovereignty over pictures and words begins this evening with an appearance before the friendly Army War College. Over a year after the declared "end" of the main combat actions, the president will present a "clear strategy" for post-war Iraq and repeat the well-known stay-the-course-slogans to the troops in the field. "He will say how important it is not to lose sight of our goal of a free, peaceful and democratic Iraq", we hear from Bush's sphere of influence. Whoever hopes for a change of course will be disappointed.
EVEN WORSE THINGS ARE POSSIBLE
Staying the course becomes difficult if this week is like the last. No day passed without bad news for Americans: (1) The murder of the Iraqi government officer Issedin Salim (2) The attack on the vice-minister Abdul Dschabbar Jussef al-Scheichli (3) The deadly US air-attack on a wedding party in Ramadi (4) The politically disastrous rupture with the former ally Ahmed Chalabi (5) More and more photos and videos from the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib (6) New revelations on assaults and batteries and even murders of war prisoners elsewhere.
"Can it get worse?" asks David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of the left-liberal "Nation". This is a rhetorical question. "The sad answer is yes." Up to last night, the Iraq war claimed 911 dead coalition soldiers including 801 Americans, no longer far from the number of 1000. The number 1000 is a symbolic number for the media
Bush's popularity ratings are falling. The political paradigms for the November election stagger. For example, the Republican Party chief Ed Gillespie predicted at the end of April that this election will be "very, very close".
LANDSLIDE INSTEAD OF A CLOSE RACE
Suddenly statisticians remember historical precedents. "Elections of second terms in office are pure referendums on office-holders", warns Chuck Todd, an election analyst for the "National Journal". Referendums on office-holders were never close. In the recent past, the office-holder either won hands down or suffered a crushing defeat.
Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory in 1980 when Jimmy Carter was shaken in domestic- and foreign policy in fighting for his office. "This victory was decided more by dissatisfaction with the incumbent than public opinion about the challenger", Todd says. "The logical consequence for Bush", according to Todd, "is that victory seems unlikely."
Even though his democratic rival John Kerry falls in the twilight zone of voter favor, Bush's negative ratings grow whether in domestic policy, foreign policy or economic policy. "My sense is that this election will not be close", the conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan believes... According to this week's poll, Bush will be voted out of office in November by a 2:1 margin.