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Thursday, March 02, 2006

National Security Conservatives and the Polls: BushCo. Disaster

As mcjoan notes over at Kos, all of Bush's polls are in free fall. Periodically Gosprey sends me bits of interest from the subscription-only conservative Stratfor report, and I always feel like I'm getting a look into the belly of the beast. Behind all the lies and spin and absurd attempts to put a good face on things, they're freaked:
The point here is not to argue the merits of the Dubai ports deal, but rather to place the business deal in the context of the U.S. grand strategy. That strategy is, again, to split the Islamic world into its component parts, induce divisions by manipulating differences, and to create coalitions based on particular needs. This is, currently, about the only strategy the United States has going for it -- and if it can't use commercial relations as an inducement in the Muslim world, that is quite a weapon to lose.

The problem has become political, and stunningly so. One of the most recent opinion polls, by CBS, has placed Bush's approval rating at 34 percent -- a fairly shocking decline, and clearly attributable to the port issue. As we have noted in the past, each party has a core constituency of about 35-37 percent. When support falls significantly below this level, a president loses his ability to govern.

The Republican coalition consists of three parts: social conservatives, economic conservatives and business interests, and national security conservatives. The port deal has apparently hit the national security conservatives in Bush's coalition hard. They were already shaky over the administration's personnel policies in the military and the question of whether he had a clear strategy in Iraq, even as they supported the invasion.

Another part of the national security faction consists of those who believe that the Muslim world as a whole is, in the end, united against the United States, and that it poses a clear and present danger. Bush used to own this faction, but the debate over the ports has generated serious doubts among this faction about Bush's general policy. In their eyes, he appears inconsistent and potentially hypocritical. Economic conservatives might love the ports deal, and so might conservatives of the "realpolitik" variety, but those who buy into the view that there is a general danger of terrorism emanating from all Muslim countries are appalled -- and it is showing in the polls.

If Bush sinks much lower, he will breaks into territory from which it would be impossible for a presidency to recover. He is approaching this territory with three years left in his presidency. It is the second time that he has probed this region: The first was immediately after Hurricane Katrina. He is now down deeper in the polls, and it is cutting into his core constituency.

"In effect, Bush's strategy and his domestic politics have intersected with potential fratricidal force. The fact is that the U.S. strategy of dividing the Muslim world and playing one part off against the other is a defensible and sophisticated strategy -- even if does not, in the end, turn out to be successful (and who can tell about that?) This is not the strategy the United States started with; the strategy emerged out of the failures in Iraq in 2003. But whatever its origins, it is the strategy that is being used, and it is not a foolish strategy.

The problem is that the political coalition has eroded to the point that Bush needs all of his factions, and this policy -- particularly because of the visceral nature of the ports issue -- is cutting into the heart of his coalition. The general problem is this: The administration has provided no framework for understanding the connection between a destroyed mosque dome in As Samarra, an attack against a crucial oil facility in Saudi Arabia, and the UAE buyout of a British ports-management firm. Rather than being discussed in the light of a single, integrated strategy, these appear to be random, disparate and uncoordinated events. The reality of the administration's strategy and the reality of its politics are colliding. Bush will backtrack on the ports issue, and the UAE will probably drop the matter. But what is not clear is whether the damage done to the strategy and the politics can be undone. The numbers are just getting very low.
Karl Rove did not just arbitrarily decide that "national security" would be the battle cry for the 2006 elections. Losing the "national security" conservatives is an unmitigated disaster for them, and they know it.

The Dubai Ports World deal is set to go through on Monday. Another manifestation of Bush's "hang tough and fuck'em all" leadership strategy? This isn't just another garden variety scandal for the GOP. The implications are much greater. But it would seem that the Administration is treating it as such.