Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2003 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Dean's Iraq quagmire
It is very easy for Howard Dean to predicate his primary
campaign on criticizing U.S. involvement in Iraq. But it may be very hard in the general
Right now, he can attack the decision to intervene since he, alone among the major Democrats, neither voted in
favor of the war or said he would have had he been in Congress at the time.
But campaigns are about the present and the future, not the past. You can't wage them with nothing but
Democratic opponents of the Iraq war are fond of comparing this engagement to the disastrous conflict in
Vietnam. But the political situation for opponents of both wars are quite different.
None of the main critics of Vietnam, certainly none of the senators, called for outright U.S. withdrawal. They
spoke of euphemistic, half-measures such as "negotiate now" or halt or pause the bombing of North Vietnam.
With so many dead Americans, it was not possible to speak of unilateral withdrawal without being assailed for
urging a solution of "cut and run."
In Iraq, there are no half measures. You can't call for negotiations: The government with which one might once
have parlayed, lies dead and destroyed.
Nor, if Bush is smart, will Dean be able to pin his hopes on turning the war over to the Iraqis. Bush is giving signs
that he will do so just as Dean hits the general election campaign trail. How can Dean run urging Bush to do
what he is already doing?
The Iraq issue is the biggest danger to Bush's re-election. But Bush can completely neutralize it by bringing
troops home week after week during the election campaign. With each new planeload, the arguments in favor
of Dean will atrophy. Even if Iraqis are killing Iraqis and Baghdad and the Sunni triangle are in chaos, Americans
will not care as long as Saddam is not in power and U.S. forces aren't being killed.
Indeed, Dean faces the prospect of having to wage his campaign based on two elements of not-so-ancient
history - the recession and the deaths in Iraq. If Bush can keep the economy growing and creating jobs even as
he pulls troops out of Iraq and secures those that remain by limiting their mission, he can achieve political
immunity the likes of which incumbent presidents can only dream.
It is always the right of the incumbent to remove his vulnerability by solving the nation's problems in time for his
re-election. Presidents that look beleaguered in the year before elections can stage big comebacks (see Clinton
1995-96), with a bit of real progress on the issues. If Bush builds a dynamic economy, is withdrawing from Iraq
piece by piece and passes Medicare coverage for prescription drugs on top of it all, he'll be a two-term president.
Dean, for his part, won't be able to campaign on the issues of his choice - the economy and Iraq. As he
criticizes Bush's record, he will find the solutions happening all around him. He'll be in a position akin to George
McGovern's in 1972 - running as an anti-war candidate when (in Henry Kissinger's well-remembered words)
"peace is at hand."
It's not a good way to get elected.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business"
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© 2003, Dick Morris