by Mark Weisbrot
March 11, 2003
"These are the actions of a regime engaged in a willful charade. These are the actions of a regime that systematically and deliberately is defying the world."
That was George W. Bush talking about Iraq last week, but it describes his own regime quite accurately. Just six days earlier, the White House announced that it didn't matter if Iraq disarmed: the goal was regime change.
Now there is a "willful charade" if there ever was one. In one sentence, the Bush administration admitted to the world that the whole inspection process, the arguments over whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or is complying with UN resolutions, were just a smokescreen.
Many people had suspected as much, since "regime change" in Iraq has long been one of the Bush administration's goals. The administration had made a similar statement back in October, but then took it back, saying that if Saddam really disarmed then that would constitute a change of regime.
Now the mask is off. Bush is going to war, no matter what Iraq does or does not do, no matter what weapons it has or does not have. So what if the documents that Britain and our government relied on to claim that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium turned out to be a forgery? Or if those infamous aluminum tubes, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, can't be used for nuclear weapons?
None of this matters because George W. Bush has decided to invade Iraq, and he intends to do it very soon. More than the coming hot desert weather or moonless nights, he is in a hurry because he is losing support at home with each passing day.
A big reason for his falling popularity at home is the economy. Last month we lost another 308,000 jobs, an enormous drop in employment, bringing the total job loss since Mr. Bush took office to more than 2 million. Manufacturing employment hit its lowest level since 1946. Democrats will soon be pointing out that, in Bill Clinton's first 25 months in office, the economy had a net gain of more than 7 million jobs.
These kinds of things matter much more to most American voters than who is ruling Iraq, and the Bush team has its eyes on 2004. We have already had a recession in 2001, and the economy appears to be headed for another one. Business investment is still down about 10 percent from its peak in 2000, consumers have taken on record levels of debt and -- especially given the weak labor market -- are not very confident about the future.
Our record, unsustainable trade deficit is another drag on the economy. State governments are, very painfully, trying to close a budget gap of $80 billion dollars over the next year. And while we are still feeling the effects of the stock market bubble that burst three years ago, there is another, similar bubble in housing prices. The collapse of this bubble, which may be imminent, could by itself tip the economy into recession.
Meanwhile, the federal government has abdicated its own responsibility to provide some economic stimulus. The Administration is offering only what Mr. Bush's father rightfully called "voodoo economics" back in 1980: another rewriting of the tax code over the next 10 years to redistribute even more income to well-off households.
The Bush team has successfully used the war since last August to displace domestic issues, thereby winning both houses of Congress and avoiding a cesspool of scandals (remember Enron? Harken Energy Corporation? Halliburton?). War is their savior, or so they hope.
Their fantasy: first, the fighting is over very quickly. The media, especially television (their other savior) will rally around the war, oil prices will drop, the cloud of uncertainty that now hangs over business and consumer confidence will recede, and the economy will recover. Bush will be hailed as conquering victor.
But the current troubles of the American economy will not be resolved so easily. And the post-war occupation of Iraq will likely make matters worse: everyone in the region (and most of the world) will want the U.S. troops out. Prolonged conflict, terrorism, and more clouds over the future of the world economy (oil prices, interest rates, investment) are the more likely outcome. For all of the Bush team's cynical and ruthless political calculations, this war will not help them stay in power.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonpartisan think-tank in the nation's capital. Readers may write him at CEPR, 1621 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20009-1052 and e-mail him at Weisbrot@cepr.net