President George Bush wrapped himself in the American flag and won a major victory last week as U.S. voters gave control of both houses of Congress to the Republican party. In mid-term elections, the party in power almost always fares badly, but this year an electorate, gripped by fear of terrorism, and whipped into war fever by high-voltage propaganda, voted Republican. Thank you Osama and Saddam.
One poignant photo said it all: Georgia's defeated Democratic senator, Max Cleland, sitting in a wheelchair, missing both legs and an arm lost in combat in Vietnam. This highly decorated hero was defeated by a Vietnam war draft-dodger who had the audacity to accuse Cleland of being "unpatriotic" after the senator courageously voted against giving Bush unlimited war-related powers. I do not recall a more shameful moment in American politics.
Bush's victory is clearly a mandate to proceed with his crusade against Iraq. Preparations for war are in an advanced stage. The U.S. has been quietly moving heavy armour and mechanized units from Europe to the Mideast. Three division equivalents and a Marine heavy brigade are now in theatre. An armada of U.S. warplanes is assembling around Iraq, which is bombed almost daily. U.S. special forces are operating in northern Iraq, and, along with Israeli scout units, in Iraq's western desert near the important H2 airbase. The war could begin as early as mid-December if there is no coup against Saddam Hussein.
But for all the propaganda about wicked Saddam, Iraq is not the main objective for the small but powerful coterie of Pentagon hardliners driving the Bush administration's national security policy. Nor is it for their intellectual and emotional peers in Israel's right-wing Likud party. The real target of the coming war is Iran, which Israel views as its principal and most dangerous enemy. Iraq merely serves as a pretext to whip America into a war frenzy and to justify insertion of large numbers of U.S. troops into Mesopotamia.