I have thought for a long time that President Bush would use a cynical ploy, an October Surprise, in order to pull out an election win this year.
Certainly, he and Karl Rove and their cohorts have done it before. Recall that, in September 2002 just before the last mid-term elections, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was asked why the Bush administration waited until after Labor Day to try to sell the American people on military action against Iraq. Card replied, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.'"
The two October Surprises that I previously came up with for this year were Operation Trot Out Osama (Operation TOO) and Operation Trot Out Weapons of Mass Destruction (Operation TOWMD). I never realized, however, that Bush's fortunes would sink so low. Since last year, Bush has experienced one fiasco after another. Terry Schiavo. Hurricane Katrina. Valerie Plame. Harriet Miers. Illegal NSA wiretapping. His approval rating has declined further with each new poll. His agenda is stalled or nonexistent. Remember his plan to privatize Social Security? DOA. Remember his phony Medicare prescription drug plan, the one that provides billions to pharmaceutical companies and keeps drug prices higher by outlawing group negotiation for better prices and drug imports from Canada? Seniors are upset at the confusing array of choices, the lack of guidance, and the upcoming deadline. And most Americans are incensed at the price of gasoline, and the lack of any real solutions by Bush or the Republican leaders of Congress other than the usual proposals which would only continue our oil addiction and add to the oil companies' coffers. As a result, Bush's rubber-stamp Republican Congress is in danger of flipping to the Democrats this November.
So now, Operation TOWMD would likely be seen as too little, too late. Voters would ask why it took so long to find the Iraqi WMD. They would ask why Bush did not permit the UN weapons inspectors to finish their job before he invaded Iraq. They might even wonder whether, at this late date, the WMD were planted. Likewise, Operation TOO could have serious backlash consequences. Voters would question why it took 4 years to capture Osama Bin Laden, and why Bush ordered U.S. troops to back off in Tora Bora, Afghanistan when they had Bin Laden cornered in November 2001, only to shift them to an invasion of Iraq, a country no one seriously claims had aynthing to do with 9/11.
So now I have set the bar higher (or is it lower?) on the October surprise for this year's Congressional election.
It's going to be Iran.
The signs are all there. The saber rattling by Bush, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and others has begun. For instance, on March 6, 2006, Rice told a Congressional Committee, "If you can take that [Iran's current behavior] and multiply it by several hundred you can imagine Iran with a nuclear weapon and the threat they would then pose to that region." A few days later, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told ABC News Nightline, “Just like Sept. 11, only with nuclear weapons this time, that’s the threat." These warnings sound a lot like the "mushroom cloud" warnings given by Rice and others regarding Saddam Hussein in the months before Bush invaded Iraq. Meanwhile, Bush administration officials are turning down opportunities to meet with Iranian officials face-to-face to try a diplomatic solution. And it has been reported that the U.S. military is planning a first strike attack against Iran with nuclear weapons.
Ironically, the false dangers we were fed about Iraq are actually true with respect to Iran. Iraq had no WMD. Iraq had no links to 9/11. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant in a box. We had him hemmed in with no-fly zones and economic sanctions. It was an oil-producing country run by secular Bathists who did not try to export radical Islam. Now, Iraq is in a civil war, and could end up with a radical Islamist terrorist government.
Like that of Iran.
Unlike Iraq, Iran admits having a nuclear program. Unlike Iraq, Iran is the world's largest sponsor of terrorism. Iran funds and sponsors the Hezbollah, which is responsible for numerous terrorist acts, including the first major terrorist act against U.S. personnel, the 1983 truck bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed over 240 Marines. Unlike Iraq, Iran is run by radical Islamic clerics. Unlike Iraq, Iran's leaders are not in a box, and they are not subject to no-fly zones or sanctions.
Additionally, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has promised repeatedly to wipe Israel off the map. Whether or not one is a supporter of Israel, it's a given that attacking Israel, or Kuwait or Pakistan or any other country in the region for that matter, would set off a war involving the U.S.
Therefore, unlike Iraq, Iran really does present a danger to the Middle East region and the U.S. However, this has been the case for as long as Bush has been President, and he has let the Iran danger grow while expending energy, resources, lives and treasure in Iraq. The sad result is, we don't have the troops to use in Iran, because they are all bogged down in Iraq. Republicans in Congress and President Bush are hustling to try to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq before the November elections. Will these same Republicans, many of whom are running for re-election, approve sending these brave young men and women right to Iran? Will the rest of the country, at least half of whom are Democrats or independents, support another war in another Middle East country beginning with the letter "I"?
It is also tragic that Bush's promotion and handling of a phony war in Iraq has caused him to lose his credibility, which is crucial to convey future real dangers to the American people, such as those which may exist in Iran. Will anyone even believe Bush if he starts talking about WMD and mushroom clouds again?
But that won't stop Bush from racheting up his rhetoric and maybe even resorting to military action, such as troop deployments or air strikes against military or nuclear facilities in Iran sometime after August this year, coincidentally as the mid-term congressional election approaches. If Bush and the GOP are still way down in the polls by then, don't be surprised by Bush's October Surprise.