Reelection? Father Didn’t Know Best

Robert B. Reich, secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, is a professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University. A longer version of this article will appear in the May issue of American Prospect.

To: The President

From: Karl Rove

The Iraqi war gave us a big boost, but election day is still 19 months away. Although I have the highest respect for your dad, I think it fair to say he squandered his victory in the 1991 Gulf War vis-a-vis the election in 1992.

You don’t want to make the same mistake. So we need to move into Damascus, pronto.


Here’s the argument you make to the public: Our preemptive war with Iraq was really just the first phase of our larger preemptive strategy in the Middle East. In order to stabilize the region, rid it of cruel despots and ensure that terrorists don’t get access to weapons of mass destruction, we must push westward into Syria.

You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Consider:

* A Syrian war would continue to distract the public’s attention from the lousy economy. The nation lost almost half a million jobs in February and March, but nobody paid attention. The war grabbed all the headlines.

Since our Iraq war strategy began, we also ducked bullets on your friend “Kenny Boy” Lay’s Enron and Dick Cheney’s Halliburton. We got away with replacing the whole economic team. And it looks like Congress will go along with a big chunk of your latest tax break even though it busts the budget and threatens the boomers’ Social Security.

Hey, there’s nothing like a war to take the public’s mind off the economy. Keep it up and we’ll sail through November 2004.

* It would keep attention away from our continuing failures on terrorism. Most Americans don’t remember that we never found the anthrax mailer, that we let Osama bin Laden get away and that you presided over the worst intelligence failure in modern history just prior to 9/11. Experts say we still haven’t prepared for another terrorist attack.

These failures could come back to haunt us. But if we keep the war going, the amnesia will continue.

* We don’t need the U.N. Before we invaded Iraq, almost 60% of Americans wanted United Nations backing. After Iraq, the public no longer cares. Just make the Syrian war an extension of the Iraq war.


You’ve already laid the groundwork by accusing Syria of harboring senior Iraqi officials.

* We don’t need to show a direct connection to Al Qaeda. We never made an airtight case that Saddam Hussein was linked to Al Qaeda. Turned out it didn’t matter. The public was pleased that we destroyed a really bad guy who did awful things to his people. Syria is almost as bad.

Besides, Syria has clear ties to terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

And there’s a lot of evidence that Syria has chemical weapons. You said so yourself (more laying of groundwork).


* No need to worry about the Democrats. The war showed that they’re comatose; so afraid of being labeled antiwar appeasers that we ran right over them. We’ll do it again.

The Dems have no foreign policy, no anti-terrorist policy and no guts.

By the way, forcing them to vote last fall on whether to give you authority to attack Iraq was brilliant, if I do say so myself. Took away their voice just before the elections. Maybe stage another vote on Syria?

* The media will give us a free ride. During the Iraq war, the networks fell over themselves trying to be patriotic. We can expect more of the same.


And by “embedding” the reporters, we kept the news focused on the daily tactics and away from the larger question of whether the war will really reduce the likelihood of future terrorist attacks in the U.S.

* We’ll split off even more Jews. Antiwar Jews will never be with us, so no potential loss there. We attracted a lot of hard-line pro-Israeli Jews into the Republican camp after we gave Ariel Sharon a blank slate to go after the Palestinians. Now, after Iraq, they love us.

If we go into Syria, even more of them will love us. Palm Beach County: Need I say more?

Mr. President, now is your chance.


Your dad failed to push into Baghdad, and where did that leave him? Without a job. By the way, Cheney and Rummy are in full agreement with me. Colin has some reservations but, being the good soldier he is, he’s willing to cave in again.

Needless to say, the RNC is wildly enthusiastic. You have only to give the nod and the speech is ready.