Peter Hartcher hypothesises in this morning’s SMH that Bush will win next week’s US Presidential election despite his poor economic stewardship and a botched occupation of Iraq that may yet turn into a Vietnam-style quagmire. The reason? Scots-Irish “trailer trash” support the Republicans because of their “fighting Irish” or “Jacksonian” mentality:
They are the gun lovers of contemporary America, and the founders of the Bible belt.
From this code of honour come the rules for the American political conduct of warfare. Once Jacksonian honour is engaged, America will fight ferociously, tirelessly and without restraint. “For the first Jacksonian rule of war is that wars must be fought with all available force,” writes Mead. “The use of limited force is deeply repugnant. Jacksonians see war as a switch that is either ‘on’ or ‘off’.
“To engage in a limited war is one of the costliest political decisions an American president can make. Neither Truman [Korean War] nor Johnson [Vietnam] survived it.”
Jacksonians voted Democrat until Nixon, then moved to become solidly Republican.
I have no idea whether this is true, and I doubt that it would be possible to verify it from opinion polling. But occasional bemused observation of RWDBs in the blogosphere suggests Hartcher’s insight may contain an element of truth.
The interesting thing about Hartcher’s hypothesis from my viewpoint is the claim that “wars must be fought with all available force“. Presumably the trailer trash must think Bush is doing this, and that Kerry might not (hence all the Swiftboat veterans nonsense). But as far as I can see the reality seems to be that Bush is attempting to prosecute the occupation of Iraq with much less than optimal military force. Numerous military observers have suggested that as many as twice the current number of troops is needed to adequately pacify the country and provide sufficient protection for meaningful democratic elections and ongoing reconstruction efforts. And the Bush administration even seems to be skimping on the maintenance and preparedness of the troops on the ground in Iraq. Last week’s mutiny by a transport platoon was said to have been caused by “the safety and condition of their vehicles“:
“The command just totally ignored them when they told them this fuel was contaminated and they were still gonna send them out on this mission with contaminated fuel. They were completely aware of this situation and I believe it’s a command issue, not a soldier issue,” Shealey told CBS’ “Early Show.” …
Last year, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, complained to the Pentagon his supply situation was so poor it threatened the Army’s ability to fight, said an official document revealed by The Washington Post on Monday.
So, if the “trailer-trash” vote is so critical, why hasn’t John Kerry tried to expose the fact that Bush is apparently engaging in limited war in much the same way as Truman in Korea and Johnson in Vietnam? I suspect it’s for exactly the same reason that Johnson and Truman did what they did: most of the American population isn’t prepared to pay the price of a very large, long-term troop deployment. Kerry can’t “call” Bush on this issue unless he’s prepared to promise to send more troops to Iraq himself. I suspect that even the “trailer-trash” aren’t really prepared for it: they just like leaders who spout jingoistic bullshit, and lack the wit to distinguish between real strength and pompous posturing.
The political perception that Americans would not tolerate a prolonged major war, despite September 11, was no doubt one of the reasons why Rumsfeld insisted on rushing the initial Iraq invasion, despite advice that troop numbers might be inadequate and that the existence of WMD hadn’t been verified. That the initial invasion itself didn’t turn into a protracted bloodbath is, I suspect, partly a consequence of Saddam’s having decided in advance to instruct his elite troops to melt into the population and mount a long-term guerilla insurgency to get rid of the Americans.
If Bush continues to station inadequate numbers of troops in Iraq to allow either meaningful democratic elections or an ongoing effective reconstruction effort, we probably will eventually see a Vietnam-style public backlash where most of the population realise they’ve been conned, and even many of the trailer-trash turn against the incumbent President. But that time probably isn’t yet.