The main message of the reelection strategy devised by Karl Rove, the President’s chief political adviser, is to present Bush as a strong and successful wartime leader. The war in Iraq was expected to work in Bush’s favor, and the Bush people planned to emphasize it more than any other issue. The adverse turn of events in Iraq has therefore been the greatest setback for Bush’s reelection effort, and the recent revelations of torture by American troops have caused a political crisis for the President. But well before these revelations, the horrors of the “postwar” period for American troops and the Iraqi people were seen by Bush and his team as a political misfortune. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction has also been a disaster. The public, according to the polls, finds Bush less and less convincing in his claims about Iraq. He continues to insist that the US occupation will end well—but he cannot talk away the news about Americans and Iraqis being killed every day and the horrifying pictures from Abu Ghraib prison.
Well before the pictures of sexual and other humiliations were published, a close ally of the White House told me, “The war was supposed to be a huge asset for the President; it was supposed to sweep everything else aside. The game plan was that we’d find the weapons of mass destruction and destroy the careers of those who opposed the war.” Karl Rove, this person said, “is concerned that the wea-pons haven’t been found. We were supposed to be crushing the other team on this, and we’re not. We took a big risk. We assumed that the reason Saddam threw the inspectors out and wouldn’t let them back in until the UN forced him to was that he had weapons of mass destruction. This outcome is a widespread concern among the President’s friends.”
The Bush reelection campaign officials use many of the same tactics the Bush administration has used to justify the war and to govern the country: they are determined to preempt, neutralize, undermine, and destroy the opposition. To counter the perception of failure in Iraq, the President asserts that weapons of mass destruction “could still be there.” Largely as a result of Bush’s rhetoric equating the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism, more than half of the public continues to believe—the lack of evidence notwithstanding—that Saddam Hussein had a direct part in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
With the occupation going badly and the numbers of dead and wounded rising, the President set out to undermine his opponents by challenging their patriotism. He is seeking to exploit the concerns Democrats expressed about the USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the emotional and fear-ridden weeks following September 11. Several Democrats and even conservatives pointed out that some provisions of the act trample civil liberties, for example allowing searches without warrants. But Bush said on April …