After the US victory in Iraq, George Bush Jr. enjoyed another boost in his approval ratings. Many now fear that the Bush administration hawks will consider their victory in Iraq a vindication of their aggressive, militaristic approach to world problems, and that nothing will stop them from bulldozing ahead with their right-wing agenda. In reality, they will face incalculable repercussions for their reckless policies.
Bush was only able to win majority support at home for his invasion of Iraq by basing himself on two lies: that Saddam had links to Al-Qaeda terrorists and that Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction represented an immediate threat to the people of the US and the Middle East. The fact that Bush lied about both these claims is now starting to surface with a vengeance, which could seriously undermine his administration.
What the US victories in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate is the massive international superiority of the US military. But winning a war and winning the peace are two entirely different things. This is being demonstrated in Iraq by growing anger, continued resistance, and protests against the US occupation. Far from winning the “war on terrorism” – as Bush promised prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq – the inevitable result will be more terrorist attacks.
The Bush administration is engaged in a calculated drive to stay in power and push through its right-wing agenda. Now that they are set on the “war on terrorism,” the Bush administration is cynically playing on Americans’ security fears to ram through their policies.
But as any trickster finds out, you can only fool people so many times before they catch on. The explosion of huge demonstrations against the Iraq war, compared to the smaller protests against the Afghanistan war, demonstrates that a sizeable section of the public did not buy the “war on terrorism” argument the second time around.
Bush is terrified of the American public seeing through his lies about his motives for war and his lie that his massive tax cuts for the rich will provide jobs. As international banker George Soros bluntly stated: “This administration is basically using the recession to redistribute income to the wealthy.” (Washington Post, 5/21/03)
Bush is Vulnerable
Bush is only just beginning to deal with the political and economic fallout from the Iraq war.
2.6 million workers have lost their jobs since Bush snuck into office – that’s 100,000 net jobs lost each month. 8.8 million workers are considered unemployed by official statistics. But if you add the 1.4 million unemployed who have given up looking for work, plus the 4.8 million who say they are involuntarily working part-time, the real number of unemployed or underemployed workers totals almost 15 million (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5/2/03). There has also been a sharp increase in long-term unemployment, with 1.9 million jobless for over six months.
Despite the boosts of support Bush received after 9/11 and to a lesser extent after the Iraq war, polls show that the majority of Americans oppose his policies on most issues often by wide majorities.
58% say the economy is worse off than two years ago. 49% disapprove of Bush’s handling of the economy, with 60% saying Bush has done “nothing” or “not much” to create new jobs. 81% believe providing health insurance for all Americans is more important than tax cuts, while only 14% prefer tax cuts. When listing the most important problems facing the nation, 40% say the economy and jobs compared to 15% who say the war and terrorism. (CBS polls, 5/13/03 and 5/27/03)
Bush’s high approval ratings do not reflect enthusiastic or conscious political support for his right-wing corporate agenda, but rather a patriotic feeling of needing to rally around the President in times of war and crisis. The apparent contradiction between public opposition to Bush’s actual policies and his overall support also shows how feeble the Democratic “opposition” is. The Democrats have utterly failed to harness or connect the anger against Bush’s policies into a generalized opposition against the Bush administration.
It is important to remember that Bush’s 90% approval ratings after 9/11 collapsed down to near their pre-9/11 level to 54% in February 2003 under the relentless pressure of economic stagnation, cuts in social services, falling living standards, corporate scandals, and mounting opposition to his war drive. Inevitably, the start of the Iraq war and the US military victory resulted in Bush’s approval ratings moving back up to 65%, but they have already begun falling again to 58% (Zogby, 6/12/03).
Rather than basking in the US victory in Iraq, within days after the fall of Baghdad Bush was forced to change direction and focus on domestic and economic issues. This reflects the pressure of workers’ mounting anger about the economy and the weakness of the Bush administration.
It will be Bush’s failure to improve the conditions of life for working people that will shatter the Republicans’ attempt to build a “permanent majority.” The cost of the war, the cost of rebuilding Iraq, and the tax cuts to the rich have yet to be paid for. Nor have all the repercussions of the bursting of the ’90s bubble economy been felt yet.
Bush’s two massive tax cuts for the rich ($1.35 trillion in 2001 and $350 billion in 2003) have helped turn an $86 billion budget surplus into what will soon be the largest federal deficit in US history. States have been starved of federal funds and are threatening massive layoffs and cutbacks in social services, which will disproportionately hit the poorest sections of the working class, especially people of color and women.
The reality of a deepening economic crisis, job losses, and cuts in social services will assert themselves on the consciousness of workers and force their way to the fore of political debate in the coming months and years.
White House strategists are painfully aware of this. They are desperate to avoid a repeat of the defeat of Bush Sr., who went from 91% support after the previous Gulf War in 1991 to being thrown out of office with the lowest vote for a sitting president since Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression.
Unlike his father, Bush Jr. faces a galvanized opposition, expressed in the massive anti-war movement (the largest social movement in the US in decades) and the growing anti-corporate mood, which is waiting for a chance to bring him down. Unlike in 1992 when illusions in capitalism were re-enforced by the collapse of Stalinism, in the past few years anger at the big corporations and capitalism has been growing, as seen in the WTO and corporate globalization protests, Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign, and last summer’s corporate scandals.
And unlike the 1991 Gulf War, this time there are all the complications of occupying Iraq. As the occupation drags on, US casualties will mount, the costs for taxpayers will keep rising, and there will be growing questioning and outright opposition to the occupation and Bush’s entire foreign policy.
Combine all these difficulties with his right-wing social agenda, which threatens to ignite a backlash from women and people of color, and clearly, he is very vulnerable.
Even within the Republican Party, there are important fissures. Bush’s policies promote the interests of big business, but he has to hide this from the right wing, particularly the Christian fundamentalist wing, whose supporters are often from poor rural areas where living conditions are deteriorating and people would oppose handouts to the rich. At election time, Bush relies on the evangelical right to stuff envelopes and go door-to-door to get the vote out. Bush is trying to keep this hidden by pushing right-wing policies like attacks on women’s abortion rights and affirmative action.
Capitalism in Crisis
There are many who believe that anyone, even a Democrat, is better than Bush. Unfortunately, this is a dead end. The Democrats are incapable of defending the rights of women, workers, and people of color or solving this economic malaise, let alone the growing environmental catastrophe.
This is because the problems are rooted in the profit-driven capitalist system, which is now in crisis. The capitalist system can no longer maintain the higher living standards enjoyed by many workers in the 1950’s, ’60s and ’70s.
Both the Democrats and Republicans lie to the public, promising they can resolve the economy’s problems. Yet both parties are funded by big business in order to protect their interests at the expense of the public. Both rely on the corporate media to spread their deceit. They are both trying to make workers and young people pay for the economic system’s crisis.
In the richest country in the world, there is enough money for socialist policies like a massive jobs creation program, a free public healthcare system, and free on-site childcare at work. We need socialist policies that benefit working people, unlike the policies of both parties that steal from working people and siphon off profits into the hands of the fat cats who own the big corporations.