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Commentary: Bush Administration's Marketing of the Possible War Against Iraq

Morning Edition: September 17, 2002

Iraq Commentary



BOB EDWARDS, host:

With the war on terrorism unfinished and the US economy still struggling, many Americans are weighing President Bush's focus on Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. MORNING EDITION has been airing a series of commentaries regarding possible US action against Iraq. Commentator Matt Miller says he suspects the Bush administration's new focus is part of a bigger plan.

MATT MILLER:

What else should reasonable people make of these facts? In June, a floppy disk found near the White House turned out to contain a presentation used by Karl Rove on White House strategy for the midterm elections. Focus on war was a key point in a talk that centered on the White House's desire to, quote, "maintain a positive issue environment." Around this time, Rove was criticized for telling a Republican group that the war and terror themes could play to the GOP's advantage in the November elections. Not long after, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was asked why the administration waited until after Labor Day to try to sell the American people on military action against Iraq. Card replied, `From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.'

Two months ago, the headlines were dominated by President Bush's past business practices, corporate scandals and the sagging economy and stock market. A little Iraq-invasion talk, and presto, they're all gone, creating the `positive issue environment' Rove wanted.

It may well be that Saddam's activities call for action very soon, though some lawmakers in both parties say they don't understand the president's urgency. A cynic, therefore, might see a staged, managed-for-politics scenario. In it, we'd see President Bush and the GOP ride the benefit of today's calculated Iraq focus until November. Then, in a show of eminent reasonableness, the president would agree to work first through the United Nations, which would authorize a resumption of inspections. The president would allow a year for those inspections to work, as any patient global statesman would.

Then, just as the presidential campaign heats up in 2004, something will happen. President Bush will say that time has run out, that inspections have proven fruitless and that the danger is even closer than we thought. The nation cannot wait. Another `positive issue environment,' in other words, that would shift attention away from the administration's budget deficits, economic mismanagement and bankrupt domestic agenda.

Again, let me be clear because some people may misread this. It may be an entirely sound judgment that we need to act against Iraq because of imminent threats to US security. I respect the experience of men like Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld and don't doubt their sense of duty and responsibility. And yet--Is it just me?--I can't shake the suspicion that this fall is all a dry run, and we'll be doing this again in 2004 when the real invasion is close at hand during President Bush's re-election campaign, and Dick Cheney will again be calling questions of timing `reprehensible.'

EDWARDS: The comments of Matt Miller, a senior fellow at Occidental College and host of "Left, Right & Center," produced at member station KCRW in Santa Monica, California.

It's 11 minutes before the hour.

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