Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Obviously, not much forthcoming from Groomville these days. It's mostly the fact that I am extremely wary of premature celebration, and I'm feeling very, cautiously optimistic (as opposed to very cautiously optimistic) about John Kerry's prospects in Tuesday's election.

I was planning to remain in hiding until tomorrow, when I will submit my final pre-2004-election article to Democratic Underground, probably after staying up most of the night writing it. I've written two articles since my last one, but one was totally the wrong mood (inspired by a recent bout of Kurt Cobain nostalgia) and the other was related to a topic that hasn't proven to be much of a factor, so I mothballed both for later revision and reintroduction, possibly during the John Kerry administration.

But there are a few events that are getting such attention, often misfocused attention, and I wanted to add my Groomy take on all of it.

First and foremost, obviously, is the story of the looted al Qaqaa site with the high explosive powder that went missing sometime after the U.S. invasion. This is obviously an extremely important story, but even the very best coverage, much of which can be found on Talking Points Memo never quite steps back far enough to show the big picture of what this news means.

Part of this is simply the tunnelvision that comes from partisanship so close to a big vote. The back-and-forth on this has been very narrow, with Democrats claiming that Bush made this huge blunder by not securing this particular site, and Republicans countering, variably, "it was never there," "it was gone when we got there," "Iraq is real big," "stop blaming the troops," and "it's all the troops' fault." And probably other arguments of equal weight and sophistication.

But actually, the real story here is the sudden (and probably too late, given the subtlety of the point) revelation of the fact, known to close Iraq-watchers but unknown to most people, is that the Bush administration's pretext for war - securing Iraq's huge stockpiles of dangerous weapons which could be distributed to international terrorists - was completely belied by the actual strategy with which they conducted the war.

If the real war objective had been finding and securing weapons, the obvious way to accomplish that objective would have been to slowly and deliberately move through Iraq establishing garrisons at all the weapons sites in the country. This strategy would have required a much larger number of troops, but Iraq is not so large as to make this unfeasible.

Instead, as we now know, in the opening phase of war, after the initial incursion into Iraqi territory but before the fall of Baghdad, U.S. troops were sweeping across the country in support of the real war objective, which was the ouster of Saddam Hussein. They were completely ignoring the stated war objective, which was securing weapons sites.

Further, consider this in the context of an administration that had argued, against all available evidence and common sense, that rocket body tubes were actually intended for use in uranium centrifuges. Meanwhile, during the invasion, troops are ignoring stockpiles of explosives that are routinely used to detonate nuclear weapons, and they show no interest in securing or even examining them.

The obvious point here, plain as day to many even before the invasion but now exposed to everyone, is that what Wolfowitz admitted in 2003 was exactly correct - the Bush administration's concern over Hussein's weapons capabilities was purely a mechanism for selling the war. As soon as they got boots on the ground in Iraq, their obsession with banned weapons evaporated.

So yes, it's a pretty serious black mark on this administration's tactical resume' that they allowed many tons of high explosives to fall into the hands of the Iraqi insurgency (at best) or international terrorists (at worst.) But don't overlook the strategic implications - if the U.S. Marines' Number One Task was not securing weapons sites, why did we invade Iraq?

Otherwise, all the big news is purely horse-race related, with all the polls showing an essentially "Who Knows" situation in all the states that really matter. I stand by my assertion that Michigan and Pennsylvania are not in play for the Republicans, despite a few recent polls showing those races close. The big money to be made is in Ohio and Florida, and Kerry's momentum in both of those states suggests a close but clear victory in at least one and probably both of those states. If Kerry wins both, game over. If Bush wins one or the other, Kerry remains a big favorite but Bush could pull it out elsewhere. If Bush wins both Ohio and Florida, he's a slight favorite.

One thing I do want to mention is that even in Kerry loses, I have no second thoughts about voting for him in the primary nor ill will toward those who supported Kerry while Dean was still in the race. As far as I'm concerned, win or lose, we picked the right guy. Kerry is serious, intelligent, poised, and fascinating to watch, from a strategic political perspective. Though Bush is, in a certain sense, one of the weakest incumbent presidential candidates in history, his machine is very effective and he's a formidable opponent for that reason. Kerry executed his strategy, stuck with the strategy when everyone was telling him what a fool he was, and caught fire at exactly the right moment. To John Kerry and his entire team, great job and thank you from one Democrat, at least, no matter the result.

As for all of the election-day shenanigans, keep in mind that for the most part these efforts are a way to put your thumb on the scale, and like the literal manifestation of that metaphor, it only works for a limited adjustment. If you put a feather on the scale and it weighs out at nine pounds, the customer is going to notice. So take two things from that - one, if a big majority of voters go to the polls on November 2nd to vote for John Kerry, all the vote suppression efforts in the world aren't going to stop it. Two, and more importantly, an election that seems to go off without any serious voting problems is NOT evidence that we don't need to reform voting and registration procedures nationwide. We still need to make sure the next time there's a close election, even if that's in 50 years, we'll know at the end who won, without having to wait two years for a media consortium to tell us that whoops, sorry, the other guy should have been president.


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