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Jewish World Review August 1, 2002 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Bush must focus on big picture | In the Bush White House, the daily drumbeat of press criticism tempts policymakers and political advisors to fashion remedies to alleviate symptoms rather than to treat basic causes.

Fixing the noisy manifestation of political weakness often takes priority over taking bold action, often on another front, to restore political strength. The school of rapid-reaction and the war room psychology of damage control so occupy the president and his staff that there is little thinking about how to cope with the basic problems that allowed the current crisis to overshadow a presidency in the first place.

When President Bush declared war on international terror in the wake of Sept. 11, he fully mobilized the nation for bold and immediate action. As he carefully unfolded his war plan against the Talliban, he had America hanging on his every word and action. He proved fully equal to the task.

Then, in an even bolder departure, he used his State of the Union speech to identify the "axis of evil" that enabled terrorism to function and called for action to topple Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. He warned of his plans to develop weapons of mass destruction and warned against delay while Saddam's laboratories worked overtime to bring these nightmares into reality.

Americans followed him and believed him. They still do.

But in the weeks and months since that speech, Bush has done little to capitalize on the blank check Americans gave him that January night to proceed with his plans for Iraq.

Distracted by the Western European and moderate Arab line that a solution to the Palestinian problem had to come first, he seemed to have lost his way. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "The native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought and enterprises of great pith and moment lose the name of action."

The result of this failure to lead the national imagination has been a series of scandals-du-jour that distract Americans from the vital need to focus on the problems that the president articulated in his State of the Union address. Some of the scandals have no political implications - the Catholic priest revelations - and some have important ramifications, as, for example, the Wall Street scandal. But all come from a lack of national focus on the primary objective of winning the war caused by Bush's failure to act decisively and quickly to bring to fruition the plans he articulated in his speech.

Ever since the movie, "Wag the Dog," came out, its central premise - that presidents might use war to win an election - has influenced public opinion, journalistic commentary, and even executive and military decisionmaking. Now, as the question looms of U.S. action against Iraq before the November elections, this cinematic make-believe has penetrated ever deeper into policy discussions.

But there is a vast difference between starting a war to win an election and not postponing one which could help to lose an election. The Bush administration has more than amply laid the groundwork for swift action against Baghdad. Americans have been waiting for 15 years to finish the job Bush's father started in 1991.

Were Bush to begin his actual military preparations for war with Saddam in September and October, what are Democrats to say? Democrats will choose silence for lack of any better position should Bush attack Iraq.

To condemn the attack would be to make admissible in the fall elections Bush's war on terror, with disastrous results for the party's chances. Can a Democratic candidate really go public and complain that Bush is doing something the people want done but is doing it 60 days too soon and thereby endangering his seat?

White House decision makers would do well to ignore the issue of wagging the dog and focus instead on the national need to take seriously and act quickly to address the dire warnings Bush gave to a breathless nation six months ago. To politicians, it is three months before the election. To Americans, it is 10 months after Sept. 11.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris