November 20, 2005

Selling the War

Even if you are unreservedly supportive of the Iraq War, I think it is difficult to argue with an observation that is pretty easy to make: Bush is doing a really bad job selling it.

So in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, I’ll offer what it would take to get me to sign on wholeheartedly and without question.

First, I’d need to see an easily delineable position on what Iraq will look like when we can leave. Bush provides, “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” But does this mean that we’re simply going to hang around until things are calm enough that we can chalk up a victory? What kind of yardstick is Bush using to measure when Iraqis are standing up? A functional democracy? Is France a functional democracy? Is Germany? Is Israel? Is Afghanistan? What exactly is a functional democracy? Asking for specific goals in this vein is not defeatist talk, it’s not surrender talk, it’s not withdrawal talk. It’s practical talk.

Secondly, I’d like to hear a little bit more about why it’s so all-important that we set up this functional democracy in Iraq. More specifically, I’d like to hear why fighting this war in Iraq for as long as it takes is the best way to stabilize the Middle East. Bush likes to point to Libya giving up its nukes, the Lebanon Cedar Revolution, elections in Iraq, contested elections in Egypt, etc. as examples of democracy’s growth in the Middle East. Fine, but he has never shown that other actions by the US—ones that didn’t cost lives, resources, and our nation’s international image—couldn’t have produced these results. If he could show definitively that fighting it out in Iraq is the only option we have and the only option we ever had that could advance the cause of democracy in the Middle East, I’d have a lot of my doubts assuaged.

At the very least, I’d like to hear a forthright justification of the war that goes like this: “Our involvement in Iraq is now so deep and the country so unstable that we have no moral option but to stay.” I think as a country we can talk about our moral obligations rationally—we can decide if the moral duty to Iraqis outweighs the moral duties we have to our own citizens. But even that debate puts us right back where we started—what are our goals—when will our moral duties be discharged and how much will we lose in the meantime? This question has not been broached in a single address I have read or read about other than to say, “We’ll leave when we (i.e. Bush) decide it’s time to leave.”

Bush should be held accountable for his pre-war actions, but at this point, we need to figure out how to end this war--in victory or in the best defeat we can. And we can't do that without asking some hard questions.

Asking for a firm statement of what it is principally we intend to accomplish in Iraq is not a request for immediate withdrawal. Asking that we have a better strategy than “waiting for something to come along” is not unpatriotic. Asking that the administration make some actual plans instead of “staying the course” is not political partisanship. Because the course is not steady, the plans are ethereal and insubstantial, our goals undefined and perhaps indefinable, and the strategy is blind. This is not the way to sell the war, and it’s a horrible way to run one.

Edit: Here's a great post outlining what it should take for everyone to agree staying is a viable option. Definitely worth a read.

1 comment:

  1. For once, I will agree with you. The administration needs to sell the war better.

    But if you want a straight answer, it might be a good idea to let the man talk. It's very hard to be heard over the din, and what tends to come through (especially in a media that thrives on conflict) are the "did nots" to the opposition's "did toos."

    As a supporter of the war, even the "did nots" from the administration in the past two weeks are heartening after months of only hearing the "did toos." Only once the truly absurd myths about the war are dismissed (again) can anyone have a rational discussion about it.