With at least 83 U.S. soldiers killed since April 1, with scores of foreign civilians taken hostage, and with insurgencies spreading from the Sunni Triangle to the Shiite-dominated cities in the south of the country, the last two weeks have taken an ominous turn for U.S. interests in Iraq. But as the tenuous reconstruction threatens to erupt into a full-scale war, conservatives are divided about how the darkening situation on the ground will affect President George W. Bush's reelection bid.
Most on the right have rebuked any comparison of Iraq to Vietnam -- and indeed, to date, there is no equivalent in the pace of casualties, on either side. But Fox News icon Bill O'Reilly -- a loud war backer who began to turn against the president in February over the missing Iraqi WMD -- now sees Bush facing a bona fide quagmire.
"At this point, President Bush is actually running against himself," O'Reilly declared in his weekly column on his personal Web site. "With the situation in Iraq tenuous, Mr. Bush finds himself in a race against time to straighten things out in the land of Saddam. Even though the U.S. economy is improving, chaos on an overseas battlefield is emerging as the end-game issue in the upcoming election."
O'Reilly seems a bit torn between telling Sen. John Kerry to keep his mouth shut about the war mess, and admiring Kerry's political savvy for remaining relatively quiet on the issue.
"Wisely, John Kerry has said little about the Iraq fighting. You don't criticize the Commander-in-Chief in the middle of a firefight. That could be construed as putting U.S. forces in jeopardy and undermining morale. Kerry would be smart to keep it zipped.
"Also, the Senator can read the polls. President Bush is sinking into the morass that Iraq is threatening to become. If things are this messed up over there next October, Kerry won't have to say a word. He can wave at the voters, and they'll wave him right in."
Here, O'Reilly finds the Vietnam comparison apt. And the administration's proselytizing prior to the invasion, he says, doesn't help matters now.
"So George W. Bush has to stabilize things in Iraq over the next few months, or he goes the way of Lyndon Johnson ...
"Americans are not going to go for another Vietnam. A war of attrition is not going to cut it, especially since the removal of Saddam was sold as a quick, surgical action with overjoyed Iraqis at the end of the rainbow. That obviously has not happened."
The truth about the flight suit
With some harsh obstacles now blocking the administration's plan to establish democracy in Iraq, Weekly Standard commentator Larry Miller is coming clean about Bush's declaration of "mission accomplished" aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier last May. The current situation on the ground in Iraq, bemoans Miller, underscores just how wrong Bush's stunt really was:
"I mean, please, anyone who ever reads past page two has known since President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier that Fallujah was the headquarters, the homeland, the core of everyone who ever worked and killed for Saddam Hussein ... What in the world did anyone imagine was going to sprout up there in the last 12 months? A chamber of commerce? A garden club? A band shell for Sunday programs of Sousa? ...
"I mention the president and the aircraft carrier for a reason, something else I've held in for a year. I hated it. I support what we've done the whole way; I think we've started to crack the hardest granite in history; I think we're in World War Three, Four, Five, and Six-through-Ten combined -- and I think we should be -- but I hated that landing so much.
"It made me wince like a big sip of sour milk, and I never said it then, because I didn't know why, and it didn't seem helpful, and it's surely not helpful now. But I'm saying it anyway, because I just realized what bugged me so much.
"It was an end-zone dance, and I hate end-zone dances. And because the game isn't over by a long shot ... I'm not an armchair general. I would never be flippant about the risk and loss of the lives of our soldiers (or our police and firemen, for that matter), or of any of those who put themselves in harm's way to protect and serve. But when I saw that banner saying 'Mission Accomplished,' I thought, no, no, it isn't accomplished at all, it's barely begun."
"Rattle their teacups"
For über-hawkish syndicated columnist Mark Steyn, published in the Chicago Sun-Times, the real issue with the media is the way it's undermining resolve to crush the coalition's enemies with the necessary indiscriminate force.
"The coalition approach to Iraq was summed up a year ago by a British colonel. Explaining how they were trying to secure Basra without blowing up buildings and causing a lot of death and destruction, he said, 'We don't want to go in and rattle all their teacups.'
"The avoidance of teacup-rattling remains a priority. In Fallujah, American troops had rockets fired at them from a mosque. So they fired back, but with the state-of-the-art laser-guided weaponry that kills the insurgents but leaves the mosque virtually untouched. I'd have been quite happy to see it blown up with the old-school non-laser imprecise munitions. But leveling mosques is felt to be insensitive, so on we go, avoiding the rattling of teacups, whether Sunni or Shiite."
Steyn doesn't mention the hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed during the recent fighting in Fallujah, but he does account for Iraqis' general spinelessness and underhanded lack of allegiance -- and how the hand-wringing Western media emboldens them.
"The passivity of the Arabs, the sensitivity of the coalition and the defeatism of the media is a potentially disastrous combination. Rattling teacups gets you a bad press from CNN and the BBC. But they give you a bad press anyway. And in Iraq, the non-rattling of the teacups is received by the locals not as cultural respect from Bush and Blair but as weakness ...
"The Iraqis will go with the winning side. And, though the Americans had a bad week last week, the insurgents had a worse one, losing as many men in seven days as U.S. forces did in the last year. The best way to make plain you're the winning side is to crush the other guys -- and rattle their teacups so loudly even CNN can't paint it as a setback."
Geoff Metcalf, a contributor to right-wing news site Newsmax.com, agrees with Mark Steyn that the treasonous media is giving a major tactical advantage to America's enemies.
"When it comes to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory there is no more successful collaborator than the media. As desperate terrorist insurgents in Iraq pour gasoline on embers to attract journalists like moths to a flame it should be noted that the bad guys are 'using' the media as a tactical resource.
"They know there is no way/no how they can defeat the American coalition forces militarily. However they also know that IF they can manipulate the media to bludgeon the American homeland with images and stories of outrageous atrocities, there is a distinct possibility the American people will compel the administration to leave."
Claiming that strategy has worked for America's enemies before, Metcalf takes the opportunity to tar Sen. John Kerry with the U.S. defeat in Vietnam in 1975 -- because everything had been going fine there, he insists, until Kerry spoke out:
"Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese general who finally drove the U.S. out of South Vietnam in 1975, credited John Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War with helping him achieve victory. He could/should have added the American media. In his 1985 memoir about the war, Gen. Giap wrote that if it weren't for organizations like Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Hanoi would have surrendered to the U.S. Despite all that may have been wrong about Vietnam, the U.S. was winning until the media and the Fonda/Kerry cabal conspired against national interest."
The true scourge of the 9/11 hearings
He dismisses Richard Clarke as a money-grubbing hack and defends "black conservative" Condoleezza Rice from "liberal racist" attacks, but Bob Parks, a former Republican congressional candidate from Southern California, saves his real venom for the 9/11 families. Writing on Mens News Daily.com, a news site devoted to "the relentless pursuit of the truth" with a "unique focus on family issues and politics," Parks says the 9/11 spouses are simply out to get President Bush.
"We've seen untouchable victims' spouses launch into well-coordinated and political attacks on the present administration. Of course, these are victims' spouses so they get the kid glove treatment. Their allegations are unchallenged and if anything, they get a comforting pat on the hand."
But Parks has no qualms about taking the gloves off.
"When they wheel these spouses, some who we'll probably see more of in Boston this summer at the DNC Convention, it's obvious they prefer to blame a Republican president and not the Muslim fanatics who carried out the attacks. One thing these women should remember is that when President Bush launched the War on Terror, it was to protect them too.
"The people who wish us to convert to Islam or die have little regard for women and definitely have a place for women who dare speak out against men. Without a War on Terror, these spouses could and probably would be subject to beatings, rape, and stoning (or burning) to death for daring to criticize a male politician. They could be brutally murdered in plain view in the middle of the street and it would be totally legal. Think about that ..."
No tax breaks for homosexuals
As millions of Americans file their tax returns by the end of the day tomorrow, gays better not try to pull a fast one, warns the nonprofit group Public Advocate of the United States. On its "welcome" page, the group states that it is a "leader in the fight for family values and against the radicals in the homosexual lobby who wish to tear down the American family." It also states that its executive director, Eugene Delgaudio, has filed numerous briefs to the Supreme Court "in support of a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution, opposition to special rights for homosexuals (so-called gay rights laws), the repeal of the Marriage Tax and the Defense of the Boy Scouts Act."
In a press release yesterday, the group said it hand-delivered a letter to the IRS calling on it to take action against any "gay marriage tax filers."
"The letter asks the IRS to investigate same-sex couples who file any tax form as 'married -- filing jointly' as part of a fraudulent same-sex marriage, such as those that have been performed by the thousands in San Francisco, California between homosexual couples."
Meanwhile, Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's largest organization of gay Republicans, is gathering for its annual meeting in Florida this week to mobilize for the election-season battle against a Federal Marriage Amendment. In a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, the group's executive director, Patrick Guerriero, expressed disbelief about President Bush's support of such a constitutional amendment:
"Until a month before [Bush announced his support of it], I thought this was just theater. I was naive; I didn't think it would get to this stage. But the far right is so determined. They are constantly talking about gay people. They are more obsessed about gay people than we are."
According to the Times Magazine, almost nobody believes such a constitutional amendment, which would need a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states, could really pass. Bush's political gamble is clear: risk alienating the 1 million gay men and women voters who backed Bush in 2000, in favor of pleasing the hard-line conservative base. But David Catania, a Republican city councilman in Washington who is gay, warns about what that might really cost Bush:
"This town could not function without the gays and lesbians who by and large don't have responsibilities for children, who can work 80 hours and who sacrifice everything on behalf of their careers.
"This is a grave transgression. It's hateful and it's wrong ... I [no longer] support [Bush] and I don't have any intentions of voting for him, or working on his behalf. I have every intention of doing just the opposite."
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.
Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here. MORE FROM Mark Follman
COMPLETELY AD FREE,
FOR THE NEXT HOUR
Read Now, Pay Later - no upfront
registration for 1-Hour Access
7-Day Access and Monthly
Subscriptions also available
No tracking or personal data collection
beyond name and email address