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Election Year 2004:
Where It Went Wrong

Natalia J. Garland

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As we approach the election year of 2008, we would be wise to learn from the mistakes of 2004. If things had been different in 2004, perhaps the Iraq War could have been won by now. We will never know, but a journey back in time might teach us a few lessons in politics, attitude, and self-preservation. What if.....?

The Democratic candidate for president in 2004 was John Kerry, and his vice-presidential choice was John Edwards. The Republican candidate was President George Bush, running for a second term with Vice President Dick Cheney. The major issue was the Iraq War. Most Democrats were critical of the lack of victory in Iraq, and some had been against the war from the beginning. The Democrats were smart to recognize that their originally preferred candidate, Howard Dean, was a miscalculation due to his personality and his bizarre presentation of himself during public speeches. But, is it possible that Kerry and Bush were also miscalculations in their respective political parties? And, did these failures in political judgment cause us to reap chaos in Iraq?

Kerry had become strongly anti-Vietnam War after completing his military service, and was involved in anti-Vietnam War political activities in those days. Kerry also became anti-Iraq War after it was apparent that no W.M.D. were going to be found. Bush, however, remained committed to fighting in Iraq and to maintaining his staff. Did these two opposite viewpoints both express and aggravate the conditions of anger among many Democrats and entrenchment among many Republicans?

What if the Democrats had elected Joe Lieberman as their presidential candidate in 2004, and the Republicans had elected Rudy Giuliani? What if the Democrats' anti-war stance had been directed toward ending the war with victory rather than withdrawal? What if the Republicans, like the Democrats with Dean, had recognized that Bush's personality and poor speaking abilities had already alienated many Americans, and that these factors had the effect of misrepresenting the Republican Party?

Lieberman had been the vice-presidential candidate under Al Gore back in the 2000 election. Yet, the man who had been considered worthy of the second most important government office in 2000, was poorly received by Democrats in 2004 because of his pro-Iraq War campaign. Perhaps Lieberman could have won the war. Perhaps the Democratic Party would have gained authority and respect because of their ability to successfully finish a difficult war.

Giuliani was more crucially connected to the nation's emotional reactions to 9/11 in 2004 than will be possible in 2008. It is a matter of seizing the prime moment to be truly effective in the course of human events. If Giuliani could have won the Iraq War--by replacing staff and approving military strategical changes which Bush was unwilling to do--probably nothing more would have really been expected of him. His other very liberal views might have been graciously overlooked by traditional Republicans in return for his securing Iraq and uniting Americans.

Besides a possible victory in Iraq, there are two other significant differences that would have developed. First, the political dynasties of the Bush and Clinton families would have been brought to an end. Bush would have served a four-year term rather than eight. And, it is very possible that Hillary Clinton would not be running for president today. If either Lieberman or Giuliani could have won the Iraq War, they probably would have been re-elected as the most trusted official to continue protecting America from terrorism. (Or, perhaps Giuliani would have been replaced by a socially conservative Republican.) Hillary Clinton would have had to wait until 2012 to run for president and, just as she is currently faced with the unexpected competition from and popularity of Barack Obama, she would have faced other unpredictable conditions in 2012.

A second significant difference would be the attitude of America's two major political parties. If the Democrats had elected a pro-war Democratic president in 2001, perhaps the party today would not be filled with anger about the war. And, the intense hatred of Bush might no longer be an issue. The failure of Republicans to recognize the escalating divisive power of Democrat hatred was a brutally self-destructive miscalculation. What if Bush had recognized this and voluntarily stepped aside for the sake of the nation and his party? The Republicans might have been able to restore communication with the Democrats, and terrorists would have been confronted with a more unified American government.

The Democratic presidential candidates for 2008 are again running an anti-war campaign with an emphasis on withdrawal (with some variation in terms of gradual withdrawal). Again, they fail to see what victory in Iraq would mean for the war on terror as well as for their party. It is as though any victory in Iraq, even to their own credit, would prove that Bush was right to engage in a preemptive war. What if the Democrats did some cognitive restructuring of their anger? What if they viewed a Democratic president's victory in Iraq as proof of the power and fitness of their party, and as proof of Bush's wartime incompetence?

Perhaps the biggest what if in modern history and certainly for the Democratic Party is: what if Bill Clinton, President of the United States from 1993 to 2001, had captured or killed Osama Bin Laden when there was apparently opportunity to do so? The failure to eliminate Bin Laden is, in fact, a Democratic criticism of President George W. Bush. Some of the Democratic anger-and-blame tone may actually be a displacement of their underlying feelings about Bill Clinton. One can only imagine the pangs of conscience associated with a missed chance to have possibly prevented 9/11. The average person would find the guilt unbearable; the narcissist would feel insulted at the suggestion of his imperfection.

Some Republican candidates are again running a campaign based on the 9/11 attack (with some variations among candidates emphasizing immigration reform). Of course, none of us should ever forget 9/11, or deny the possibility of another attack or ignore terrorist activity in other countries. But, the re-living of 9/11 keeps the door open for Democratic accusations of the politics of fear. Republicans, while employing 9/11 as reality and symbol, should be more assertive in promoting their successes in Iraq, enumerating the foiled terrorist attempts, and stressing the fact that America has not been attacked since 9/11. What if the Republicans ran a pro-active campaign centered on extending success and strengthening alliances in the war on terror?

One Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, seems to understand the need to strengthen America's relationships. The following except is taken from the "Global Initiative for Values and Freedom," accessed from the Mitt Romney for President website:

I believe America must establish a Special Partnership Force, with a core leadership drawn from Army Special Forces personnel training in working with civilian governments and Intelligence personnel. This force would work hand-in-glove with local host governments. Together, in partnership, they would seek to target and separate terrorists from the local population, and to disrupt and defeat them. They would have the authority to call in all elements of civil assistance and humanitarian aid. And, where they felt it was necessary, they could call in Delta and SEAL resources. Their goal is to build national institutions of stability and freedom, and to promote the rule of law and human rights.
[End of quote.]

Another Republican candidate, Mike Huckabee, has provided a detailed plan for combating terrorism, and it can be accessed at the Mike Huckabee for President website. He seems to grip the advantages of viewing 9/11 from a new perspective. Here is an excerpt from the "National Security/Foreign Policy: War on Terror:"

When the sun rose on September 11, we were the only superpower in the world; when the sun set that day, we were still the only superpower, but how different the world looked. During the Cold War, you were a hawk or a dove, but this new world requires us to be a phoenix, to rise from the ashes of the twin towers with a whole new game plan for this very different enemy. Being a phoenix means constantly reinventing ourselves, dying to mistakes and miscalculations, changing tactics and strategies, rising reborn to meet each new challenge and seize each new opportunity.
[End of quote.]

Can America win the war on terror? We can. If we become as patient and determined as the terrorists, we can. If we note the weak points and divisions within their own terrorist organizations, we can overcome their activity. The devastating American conditions are: military and policy errors, and refusal to evaluate and change; appeasement as a delusional response to terrorist intimidation or in lieu of law enforcement; denial of the intent and extent of terrorism; and identity politics which obstruct national focus and unity.

Americans need to concentrate on national security (i.e., self-preservation) as the political movement of this era, much in the manner that previous generations energized the Civil Rights Movement and, before that, won World War II. American history proves that we can protect ourselves and others at the grassroots, military, and legislative levels. But time passes quickly, and soon the field of presidential candidates will be narrowed down to two choices for 2008. Let us hope that in 2012 we do not look back in regret, and wonder what if.....? (Written 09/10/07)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2007 Natalia J. Garland