From Plus to Minus


By Gus Tyler

Published May 28, 2004, issue of May 28, 2004.
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Bush’s standing with the American people is on a downward slide, according to the most recent New York Times/CBS poll. Last March, his approval rating was 71 percent. It is now down to 46 percent — the lowest point in the years of his presidency

The early high came on the heels of Hussein’s capture. Since that moment, Bush’s rating has been going down.

Obviously, many factors must be at work, but there is one element on which Bush has been counting as a big plus that seems to be turning into a big minus –– namely, our pre-emptive war in Iraq,

Although there are many theories about just why Bush decided to launch a war against Iraq — to control that country’s oil supply, to remove a terrorist threat to America, to set an example for the democratization of the Middle East Islamic tyrannies — there was one theory held by hard-boiled political skeptics. They suggested that a successful war in Iraq would give Bush a double advantage: First, he would be a war hero, like Andrew Jackson or Dwight Eisenhower. Second, if the election of 2004 came while he was still embroiled with Iraq, the people would be told not “to change horses in midstream.”

But whatever the real reason was, Bush strategists saw the Iraq war as a plus for Bush’s image and for his re-election. However, the Times/CBS poll shows a deep, steep slide in the public’s judgment about weather we did the right thing in declaring war against Iraq. In the conduct of the war, the poll found that last December, 63 percent approved. Last month it fell to 58 percent, and in the recent poll it fell to 47 percent. Put plainly, in a matter of four months, the percentage of those who believe we should have launched our pre-emptive war fell from close to two-thirds of the people to less than half. A popular war is now an unpopular war. How did that happen?

The Bush administration assumed that Iraq would be a pushover, as it was for Bush Sr. in the Gulf War. But what followed was quite different.

Bush Sr. decided, quite deliberately, not to pursue Hussein to drive him from office, mainly because Papa Bush knew that to try to do so would involve dealing with a “hostile people” over many, many years.

Bush Sr. and his advisers knew the difference between a war with Hussein fought in the desert and a war to remove Hussein fought in the highways, streets and back alleys of the Iraqi cities.

As it turns out, Papa knew best. When his son landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a huge poster proclaimed “mission accomplished.” But what seemed like the end really became the beginning of the actual war between the U.S. coalition and the guerrilla bands.

Apparently, what the Bush people did not understand is the difference between “conquering” and “governing.” The Caesars “conquered” just about all of Europe. They assumed that the ignorant “barbarians” would accept their servile station. But alas, they did not. The Vandals, the Goths, the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths and other “barbarian” tribes rose up and invaded Rome. And what they did to Rome is dramatically summarized in the English verb “to vandalize.”

Just how Bush’s decline will play out in the 2004 election we do not know. But at the moment — with Bush in possession of the “bully pulpit,” and Kerry trying to get his voice — the two candidates are running neck and neck. Stay tuned!

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