Bush at War

BUSH AT WAR….Armed Liberal asks today, Are we at war? Good question. So let me take this chance to follow up on my earlier post and toss off a few reasons that regardless of whether we actually are at war, I don’t think George Bush considers us to be (seriously) at war.

This is not a garden variety partisan policy dispute. It’s war, and if George Bush considered it to be truly serious he would have done everything he could to build a bipartisan consensus and wide public support for his actions. But he didn’t. Off the top of my head, here are five examples of the kinds of things he would have done if he really thought terrorism was a threat on the level of World War II or the Cold War:

  • As many war supporters have pointed out (for example, Glenn Reynolds here and here), Bill Clinton has been rather supportive of the war on terror and of muscular national security in general. If Bush were serious about the war, he would have enlisted Bill Clinton’s active support wherever he could, regardless of his personal feelings toward the guy. He’s an ex-president and the most prominent Democrat and internationalist around, and his backing would have helped build support both domestically and internationally.

  • He would have worked with Democrats from the beginning on the idea of creating a Department of Homeland Security. And he wouldn’t have held things up by insisting on union busting activities that he knew perfectly well would spark outrage among Democrats.

  • After his UN speech, he would have floated proposals designed to demonstrate that our goals in Iraq were not motivated strictly by oil. For instance, he might have agreed beforehand to allow the UN to control all oil contracts and civil rebuilding contracts. These demonstrations of goodwill might not have gotten France on board (though who knows), but they might have gotten many other countries on board and certainly would have muted suspicions about our motives abroad. Remember, in the end it wasn’t just France that opposed us. We couldn’t even get a majority of the Security Council on our side.

  • He could have helped garner additional Arab support by placing increased public pressure on Israel over the settlements and the wall. This is something Bush could have gotten away with since his position as a supporter of Israel is rock solid.

  • He might have made a serious call to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil by, for example, proposing a steep increase in the gasoline tax or higher CAFE standards.

There’s a common thread to all of these: they are things that normally George Bush wouldn’t want to do. And that’s exactly the point, since one way to show seriousness is to demonstrate concretely that you’re willing to sacrifice other lesser goals in order to gain support for your higher goals. This is, for example, what FDR did when he said that “Dr. Win the War” had replaced “Dr. New Deal.” On the other hand, if your actions are confined solely to things that you’ve always wanted to do anyway, the natural conclusion is that you’re using the war simply as an excuse to press forward with politics as usual.

Despite the fact that this is a global war that requires broad support over long timescales, George Bush has not tried to gain Democratic support; he has not engaged seriously with the international community; he has not asked the American public for any kind of sacrifice; he has continued to push a divisive domestic agenda; he has shown little interest in funding anti-proliferation efforts; he has declined to put adequate resources into Afghanistan; he has done nothing to fix an intelligence operation that’s quite obvously broken; and he has stonewalled every investigation into the failures that allowed 9/11 to happen.

In light of this, just how seriously do you think George Bush takes the fight against terrorism? I’d say, not very.