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Scare Tactics - Victory or insecurity? Such alarmist rhetoric makes weak case for votes
Detroit Free Press
December 14, 2003

Speaking in Florida a few weeks ago, Ken Mehlman, who will manage the re-election campaign of President George W. Bush, said the choice for voters will be between "victory in Iraq or insecurity in America."

A word comes to mind, and it is . . . hooey.

The president ought to tell his man to stop trying to scare up votes with such oversimplified and alarmist rhetoric.

Besides, there are plenty of Americans who are already feeling a little insecure with Bush at the helm, including Arab Americans, low-income Americans, older Americans who can't figure out this prescription drug law, younger Americans watching the federal deficit soar, and military Americans who thought they'd be home from Iraq by now.

And wouldn't all Americans be feeling a little more secure if we had a few more friends in the world than Britain, Spain and Poland? For heaven's sake, even Canada's mad at us over last week's pronouncement that any nation that opposed the war in Iraq cannot bid on contracts to help rebuild Iraq. So are a bunch of other nations, such as Russia and Germany, that we have also asked to forgive or restructure the debts Iraq owes them. Like that's going to happen now.

Interestingly, the memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in which this policy was outlined explains that "international support and cooperation are necessary for progress in Iraq." But the memo implies that only countries which joined the United States in the war on Iraq can be trusted to protect "the essential security interest of the United States" there.

The very next point of the memo explains that "limiting competition for prime contracts will encourage the expansion of international cooperation in Iraq." Huh? So far, the international response has been more about economic retaliation than sending in a few brigades to curry America's favor. Another miscalculation by the administration?

Even more so than Iraq, the war on global terrorism -- which is so essential to American security -- requires a global effort and global cooperation. Every legitimate nation condemns terrorism, but how many have joined America's aggressive effort to root it out and smash it? How secure can we feel when Al Qaeda still breathes and hatred of all things American still bubbles up throughout the Muslim world? How secure do we feel when report after report shows how little has really been done to address domestic security needs that were exposed in the wake of 9/11? We all take off our shoes at the airport now, there has been a massive new government bureaucracy established, and Attorney General John Ashcroft is ever on guard for terrorists, pot-smokers and pornographers. Meantime, the people we really rely on, state and local police, are struggling with budget cuts and writing tickets with inflated fines to help finance government services.

As for the other half of the Mehlman choice, victory in Iraq, we haven't exactly achieved that yet, despite the "mission accomplished" banner that greeted the president on the aircraft carrier last May. Victory comes when the war stops, and that's going to be a while. Just ask the troops.

There's also an implication in Mehlman's sloganeering that subduing Iraq will save America from terrorist attacks. Let's remember that only a slender thread has been found between Saddam Hussein and anti-American terrorism, and none at all between the deposed dictator and 9/11. Meantime, the invasion of Iraq has inspired the terrorists who continue to plague U.S. forces there.

Here's the overarching point. The 2004 election will very likely offer the American people a clear choice between President Bush and whoever is the Democratic nominee, especially if it is Howard Dean. Bush ought to run on his record and his intentions, not some oversimplified sky-could-fall declaration that doesn't hold up to even cursory examination.

Relentlessly "on message," the Republican machine is operating on the premise that if it sounds good and you say it often enough, it will become gospel. That's selling the voters short.

Actually, it's selling the president short, too. He ought to tell his man to cut the hooey.

RON DZWONKOWSKI is editor of the Free Press editorial page. You can reach him at 313-222-6635, at dzwonk@freepress.com, or write him in care of the Free Press editorial page.

Posted: December 15, 2003


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