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Time for change?

The central issues for the next election will be the conduct of the war on terror and the economy. How George Bush and John Kerry are perceived in terms of their ability to handle these issues successfully will determine our next president. Let’s examine each issue separately.

Whether John Kerry would make a better wartime president than George Bush is unknowable at this time because John Kerry did not have to formulate America’s response to 9/11 prospectively; he has always had the luxury of commenting on the war by looking at it in the rearview mirror.

To the best of my knowledge, the only statements Sen. Kerry has made in reference to how he would have prosecuted the war differently were those comments he made alluding to enlisting the assistance of the world community. But then, comments such as his are unproblematic with perfect 20/20 hindsight.

But now that the Iraqi oil-for-food program scandal has reared its ugly head, it’s a logical assumption that regardless of who had gone to the United Nations before the war, the request would still have been met with the same stonewalling.

No one would have ever been the wiser regarding the potential malfeasance and/or collusion between the U.N. and the Iraqi regime as long as Saddam was in power. While we do not yet have proof, I suspect that France, Russia and perhaps others were involved in billions of dollars in kickbacks. If that is proven, then how the U.N. was approached becomes academic.

The president told us he went to war because of suspected weapons of mass destruction, which is partially the case. But Kofi Anan never let on that he might have wanted to avoid war because of his fear of an audit of the U.N.’s oil-for-food program.

Sen. Kerry has criticized the administration about the number of American casualties in Iraq, which is understandable. But in deference to the administration, no war ever goes as planned, and John Kerry knows that as well as anyone.

The vagaries of this war are not the fault of the administration. But in retrospect, the Bush team did a terrible job of preparing the nation for the continuing unrest in Iraq and also underestimated the public’s reaction to American casualties. Simply stated, they blew it!

That said, I’m still not inclined to hand the executive branch to an ultra-liberal with an astonishing record of flip-flopping on issues. Nevertheless, the administration has some serious explaining to do.

The president owes the American people a clearer explanation of why we remain in Iraq as well as specifics about our strategic objectives there. He also owes us an explanation of how his vision for the Middle East is attainable and why it’s important to pay the price in American blood to achieve that vision.

Additionally, the president must admit that he made a mistake (whether justifiable or not) regarding the WMDs. Colin Powell also needs to shoulder some of the blame for the mess in Iraq because it was the State Department that decided to disband the Iraqi army instead of buying their allegiance for a couple hundred million dollars, which in hindsight was a bargain! Now we’re fighting the same soldiers whom we could have bought for $50 a month.

Finally, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld must be held accountable for his misjudgment of war’s aftermath and why he hasn’t reconstituted our military in the past three-plus years to give the Pentagon the ability to rotate our troops on a more consistent basis.

The second major issue of the upcoming election is the economy, and the fact remains that the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled Congress have turned a surplus into a $477 billion deficit. There are valid reasons for this: e.g. 9/11, the stock market bubble, corporate scandals and the war on terror. But at the same time, the Republicans have thrown money at a myriad of programs as if they were sailors on shore leave. The bottom line is that the administration has a dreadful record of controlling spending.

President Bush has told us that spending could be cut significantly if Congress was willing. But history reveals that American governments controlled by a single party are profligate in the extreme, to wit: The greatest growth in federal outlays in history occurred during the Kennedy-Johnson years (4.8 percent) when the Democrats controlled Congress. The second fastest rise (4.4 percent) occurred during our current administration with the Republicans in control of Congress. The third biggest spending explosion (3.7 percent) occurred when the Democrats also controlled Congress during the Carter years.

Contrast those numbers with the Eisenhower years (.4 percent), the Clinton years (.9 percent), the Nixon-Ford years (2.5 percent), and the Reagan years (3.3 percent). In each of those administrations, Congress and the executive branch were under separate control. To quote a recent article in Forbes magazine: “Fiscal probity is more likely when control of government is split between both parties.”

In fairness to the man who inherited a declining economy, a military stretched for too thin and a terror network that had been left unchecked for 20 years, we should give the president the benefit of the doubt, but not a blank check.

The president should consider replacing Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and insist that Vice President Cheney clarify Halliburton’s role vis-a-vis the Iraq war in detail. Lastly, the president should step up to the plate and admit to his administration’s shortcomings and how he plans to correct them.

As for the Democrats, Sen. Kerry must articulate his positions, substantiate them with facts, and then stand by them instead of incessantly retreating into his hackneyed phraseology and vacillating on each issue put before him.

It’s going to be an interesting summer!

Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net


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