Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "2004 Election: GOP's encore," Aug. 28, 2004

MILITARY President Bush told Cincinnati veterans the military is fighting 21st-century wars with 20th-century lineups, and announced a comprehensive realignment that will bring home up to 70,000 uniformed personnel over 10 years and revamp or close major bases overseas. Mr. Bush said the sweeping changes would encourage "a more agile and more flexible force" and eliminate a basing structure tied to Cold War-era threats.

Proponents hailed the plan as long-overdue and cost-effective. U.S. bases in Europe, for example, currently are home to more than 116,000 troops, 125,000 dependents, and 45,000 support personnel. Under the president's plan the large civilian component-and lengthy noncombat deployments overseas-could be eliminated.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry spoke to the same veterans convention two days later, denouncing the president's plan. Sen. Kerry said the realignment "in no way relieves the strain on our overextended military personnel." But Sen. Kerry's plan looked conspicuously like retreat: Kerry adviser Rand Beers told reporters Sen. Kerry would consider moving troops on the Korean Peninsula further south to avoid a strike from North Korea. Cincinnati vets showed their own skepticism: In contrast to President Bush's standing-ovation reception, Sen. Kerry was heckled by several vets and many in the audience pointedly sat on their hands during applause lines.

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POLITICS A Pew Research poll released on Aug. 18 shows that voters are more concerned about national security than they are about the economy-the first time that's happened in a presidential election year since 1972, at the height of the Vietnam War.

Added to deepening doubts about the war in Iraq, voters' preoccupation with terrorism all but guarantees the upcoming GOP convention will focus on national security, pushing hot-button social issues into the background. That's fine with GOP leaders, who don't want to risk alienating moderate swing voters by appearing too beholden to the religious right. Indeed, prominent evangelical leaders will be almost completely invisible at the convention, which opens Aug. 30.

HURRICANE CHARLEY Aerial views of Charley's swath of destruction look more like acres of bomb damage than the aftermath of a storm. But on the ground, individual stories of pain, suffering, and hope are emerging as victims dig out of the mess.

"I'm not leaving unless the law comes and hogties and takes me," 62-year-old Mary Foster cried as a state official tried to persuade her to leave her roof-damaged apartment. When the official protested that Ms. Foster could be killed if the roof collapsed, she replied: "That's the chance I've got to take." The aftermath is proving particularly difficult for the elderly, who often live alone, and are without cash or insurance for repairs.

IRAQ For two days rebel Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr chewed on the Iraqi government's ultimatum to disarm his militia and pull out from Iraq's holiest Shiite shrine. When he rejected it-vowing "either martyrdom or victory"-fresh fighting erupted again on Aug. 19 near the Imam Ali Mosque where his Mahdi Army is holed up in Najaf.

A delegation of Iraqi officials tried for almost a week to coax Mr. Sadr into surrendering without conditions. The latest standoff in Najaf reportedly began Aug. 5 when his guerrillas attacked a police station, on the grounds that a U.S. Marine patrol had passed too close to Mr. al-Sadr's home, an area considered off-limits in an informal agreement. Some 2,000 U.S. Marines surround the city and have battered his militia for two weeks with helicopter gunships, tanks, and warplanes. In a stalemate where U.S. forces have reason to be reluctant to storm Shiite landmarks, resolution depends on Iraqi forces and Baghdad will. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi issued "a final call" to Mr. Sadr to put down his weapons and Iraqi Minister of State Qassim Dawoud said the government would raid the shrine if the stalemate continued.

VENEZUELA President Hugo Chavez defeated a recall referendum halfway through his term, with 58 percent of Venezuelans voting to keep him in office. But the results immediately came into doubt when opposition groups cried fraud. Their exit polls showed Chavez support at 40 percent. They also charged that 500 electronic voting machines showed suspiciously similar results, indicating that they may have been tampered with prior to the vote. But international observers, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, endorsed the Chavez win. Mr. Carter even criticized Chavez opponents for, as he put it, trying to manipulate the results. Chavez foes must now regroup, but on terms that are becoming increasingly oppressive.

WAR ON TERROR The U.S. Army on Aug. 19 ruled against Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a high-ranking intelligence officer who in uniform gave 23 speeches in which he said the terror war pitted "a Christian nation" against Islam. The Army Inspector General (IG) concluded that Lt. Gen. Boykin should have cleared his speeches, made in 2002, because of "the sensitive nature of his remarks concerning U.S. policy and the likelihood that he would be perceived by his audiences as a DOD spokesman based on his official position and his appearance in uniform."

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