Bush was rebuked, the Democrats won: And the results were known in just a few hours

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
If you ask me, the most significant aspect of the Midterm US Elections to us Filipinos is that the election results – all over the vast United States of America – were known in just a few hours after polling closed.

What a contrast to our electoral contests, where weeks elapse, giving ample time for dagdag-bawas, before anybody knows who won or lost.

In any event, the Democrats have captured the House of Representatives. Of the 435 House seats at stake, the Democrats won 227, and the Republicans – losing many once-safe constituencies – are down to only 193. In the Senate, the race for control of the upper chamber is close. Out of the 33 Senate seats at issue, the Democrats, plus "Independent" Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, were still two short of the six they need to topple the Republicans from dominance there, but a couple of Senate races are still locked in a contest as yet too close to call.

The fact is that – while he’ll still be President for the next two years – President George W. Bush has been dealt a stinging rebuke.

The Midterm election was a referendum, let’s face it, on his stewardship of the White House and "his" war in Iraq. With California’s Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, long one of Bush’s critics on the war and other issues, now poised to become the first Woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Bush and his initiatives will be scrutinized by a hostile House of Representatives, which will probably invoke stern oversight and subpoena powers to investigate not only HOW President Dubya and his Republicans got America into a war in Iraq without, in the end, finding any Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), but key industries and issues such as government contractors like Halliburton, defense manufacturers etc., plus the question of excessive executive compensation.

In sum, the Democrats – while they can’t hinder the president who retains executive power – will demand an accounting.

Following Pelosi’s left-leaning program, they’ll probably increase taxes, and pursue the closure of the "tax gap," meaning some $345 billion a year in "uncollected" taxes.

Although the Iraq War was a major campaign issue, there were other domestic issues which brought the Republicans down. One of them was corruption.

I think the Financial Times of London expressed it best when it ran as its lead editorial (in British "English", an editorial is called a "Leader") the FT, last Tuesday, growled: "REPUBLICANS DESERVE AN ELECTORAL THRASHING."

This was written before Americans went to the polls, remember. The FT declared: "Today’s mid-term elections could, and certainly should, mark a watershed in US politics. A string of polls shows a pitch of hostility towards congressional incumbents last seen in 1994, when Republicans captured both Houses. Those polls may or may not be right. But what is beyond doubt is that with their meretricious moralising and blatant corruption, the Republicans richly deserve to lose their majority."

"Power has corrupted this ruling party, especially over the past five years or so. The Abramoff affair, for instance, revealed a sophisticated, widely-tolerated influence-peddling racket that went right to the top of the Republican leadership."

The FT also flayed the "bogus prospectus for invading Iraq" and charged that "the occupation has been bungled so badly it is proliferating militant jihadism."

I think Mr. Bush has been delivered a message about what Americans think of the Iraq War and the involvement of its men and women in that quicksand of a conflict which has already degenerated into a hideous, bloody sectarian civil war.

Ironically, it was Saddam Hussein’s terrible and cruelly merciless despotism which held Iraq together over the years – and he will eventually go to the gallows for it. The once-suppressed majority Twelver Shiites and the Sunni Muslims are now busily murdering each other, and the Kurds, Muslims of a different stripe, have all but broken away. In short, there may be no "Iraq" in which to plant the fragile seedling of democracy. What are the Americans, caught in the crossfire to do? Probably they’ll have to bite the bullet, and get out. (Like the last helicopter out of Saigon in 1975, by golly).

It will once more be humiliating, diminish America’s own self-esteem and encourage terrorist attacks in the continental United States (at least Bush and his Administration, for all their alleged savaging of "human rights" have managed to prevent a repeat of 9/11 –thus far). Sadly, the Americans have run out of options.
* * *
The Mid-term debacle has also warned Mr. Bush that he must at last get rid of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He erred in backing up Rumsfeld to the hilt in his hubris, when almost everybody – at home and abroad (including within the US military) – believed Rumsfeld had bungled the Iraq invasion, the "occupation," and its aftermath.

Oh well. I won’t presume to offer "unsolicited advice" to the President of the United States of superpower America, but the American electorate has already given him their "advice" and dissent.

Poor Mr. Bush. He had all the good intentions, I still believe, but you know what the road to hell is paved with. The "road to hell"? The Americans are already in hell in Iraq. Attacking Afghanistan, moving to crush the Taliban, and hunting down Osama bin Laden, the butcher who programmed 9/11, made sense. (Alas, even there, the Taliban are on a counter-offensive). But Iraq? At this stage, Iraqis ought to be left to sort out their own mess – finding their own salvation, or their own self-destruction.

The Americans who insist on "staying the course" there were mistaken to feel that toppling Saddam had imposed an obligation on them, i.e. "we broke it, therefore we’ve got to stay and fix it." They didn’t break it, Iraq was broken many years before the first American and British boot hit the ground there, and the first Abrams tank rolled in.

For that matter, Condi Rice was optimistic, but sadly wrong. There is no prospect of a "new Middle East." It will always be the "old Middle East," with hatred, feuds, vendettas and religious strife which are centuries old.

It is a deplorable fact of life that "democracy" is not a magic bullet, transforming societies with a single shot. The Palestinians democratically elected Hamas. The Germans democratically elected Adolf Hitler. Vox populi is not always Vox Dei.

The Russians have a saying: "Eternal peace lasts only until next year." History, someone once remarked, is full of wars that people said would never happen. It’s the way of the world.

Perhaps, after Adam and Eve were driven by God from Paradise, our disappointments in war and peace are a consequence of Original Sin. But I’m no theologian. I’m just a newspaperman. Journalism has been described as writing "history in a hurry." The true historians will decide whether Mr. Bush, or Mr. Blair, or any leader who sends his men and women into harm’s way, were right or wrong.
* * *
President GMA leaves for Hanoi next Sunday to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Next Tuesday, November 14th, she will have a one-on-one meeting with President Bush. This was arranged directly from Washington DC. What will come out of that meeting may be significant.

It’s good that La Presidenta will temporarily assume the post of Secretary of National Defense herself after reluctantly accepting the "irrevocable" resignation of exiting Secretary Avelino "Nonong" Cruz Jr. What Secretary Cruz had accomplished and still has pending in the DND in terms of defense reform is very important. The earnest and indefatigable Cruz had set up defense planning, operations training and doctrines, logistics schedules, staff development, personnel management guidelines, budget control measures, defense acquisition parameters, civil-military operations plans, and an information management structure.

There are already many acquisitions in the pipeline, with more in the final stage of being refined before implementation. The blueprint set by Cruz was to train 75 more army battalions and retrain our soldiers to upgrade their marksmanship, their ability to maneuver, coordinate and work as a team. Cruz stressed the need to train more officers, noting that the Army alone requires 1,700 "mid-grade officers" from the rank of Captain up. The marginalization of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) is resulting, sorry to say, in a drought of officers – since 70 percent of our officers leading troops in the field used to come from the ROTC, not from the Philippine Military Academy. We must get ourselves a fighting army, navy and air force – a lean, mean machine – and not count the cost.

Now that Nonong Cruz is going, going, gone – who will take over the vital defense reform program he so ably engineered and administered? The Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief GMA must not yield to pressure, or Auld Lang Syne in choosing a successor to Cruz in the DND. Whoever she selects must not be hidebound in his ideas, and be capable of dealing with the Americans, the Chinese, the Australians, and other key "players" in our regional defense scheme. Most important of all will be the military assistance and support we get from our traditional allies in the war not merely against insurgency, but also against terrorism.

Frankly, whatever the "politics" of it, I deeply regret the abrupt departure of Nonong Cruz. The vacuum he left behind must not be filled hastily, or based on the appeasement of the ambitious (many covet that post and its "budgetary" bonanza). And there is no ‘Ramon Magsaysay" in sight as in 1950 to spring out of nowhere like a miraculous savior, to save the situation.

May I repeat: the DND Secretaryship is not a plum, to be fought over by slavering wannabes. It is the linchpin of the defense of our nation against all threats.











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