Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


The left just doesn't get Iraq and America

One of the common reactions in media circles to the current state of the American presidential race runs something like this: With Bush's Iraq policy in shambles how in the world is Kerry not winning this race in a cakewalk? With every dying soldier and every outburst of violence being announced on the nightly newscasts, Kerry should be easily on his way to restoring some sanity in the White House. But hs isn't. How can that be?

They then pull out their analyst hats. The armchair quarterbacking varies from praise of Bush's dirty-trick tactics to a dumping on Kerry's failure to fight back or go on the offensive. The Swift Boat Vets are depicted as a GOP front-group that made a successful guerilla ambush before Kerry knew what to do. Kerry's varying positions on Iraq are described as confusing or not articulated properly. The grisly anticipation of the 1000th US soldier dying in Iraq is seen as not being exploited well enough by the people running Kerry's campaign strategy. On almost every front media pundits scramble to figure out a way in which Kerry can show the light to the American people and expose George Bush's Iraq policy for the failure that it is.

To start with, what they fail to acknowledge is just how slanted their world view is, and just how biased their coverage of Bush and Iraq has been. In other words, much of the reason for their optimism in a Bush loss stems from the very work they have been doing to spray the American public with as much anti-Bush sentiment as they can humanly muster. This not only distorts the reality of Iraq and the way the public sees the war, but it also leaves unattended much of the work which should have been done in taking a lot closer look at the other candidate. If Kerry isn't doing as well as they expected, it's because people aren't swallowing what they're being fed. Not only would a more balanced coverage further expose the weakness of Kerry's candidacy, it would also expose the weakness of arguments being made by the leftist media.

Furthermore, much of the Bush criticism fails to perceive one very important reality. Not only did Americans support this war in the first place, they also don't want to see America lose. Not one Bush critic has figured out a way of telling Americans they can win without winning in Iraq. It doesn't take much for the average voter to realize that although there is much to criticize about what's going on in Iraq right now, the usual detractors are just not putting forth a vision that offers something positive for the American people. How can derision of the war lead to a substantive alternative to the Bush presidency? How can a 'blame America first' sentiment lead to America finishing first in the war on terror? These are questions Americans need answered. Kerry and gang just aren't doing it.

As much as the left appreciates nuance and complexity in political discussion, their view of the war, Bush, and Kerry suffers from chronic simplicity. As easy as it is for them to malign Bush and his foolish little war, they fail to reconcile two seemingly contradictory propositions: the war is bad, America needs to win the war. This failure leads to the easily drawn conclusion that the Bush critics think: the war is bad, America needs to lose the war in order to be taught a lesson.

The illogic of the Bush critics can be demonstrated by taking their arguments to conclusion. If the war is that bad, if it was such a mistake in the first place, if everything there is going wrong for America and right for the insurgents, then there are left only two scenarios to be played out if their guy Kerry takes over.

One is that the person who feels this way now has the task of winning in Iraq. He has the task of fighting a war he didn't want fought in the first place, which he thought was waged on the premise of a lie, which he takes great pains to depict as going badly, which he has no plan for winning, and for which every bone in his body reminds him that American military excursions are what is wrong with America in the world, not what is right with America in the world. In other words, this person hates this war but says he's going to win it anyways. Americans are supposed to buy that?

The other scenario is that the person who feels the war in Iraq is wrong tells America precisely how he is to withdraw from that mess before even more harm is done. He has the task of withdrawing from a war he didn't want fought in the first place, and explaining how this can be done without America losing face, without Iraq falling into further chaos, without America being an even larger target than it was before, without retreating in the war on terrorism, without sending all the wrong signals to all the wrong people around the world, without abandoning democracy in the Middle East, and without signaling to America that they not only lost another war but that it's ok for America to lose another war.

Once Bush waged war in Iraq, the debate should have shifted from whether or not it should have been done to what can be done about it now. This is where the left runs into so many difficulties. Confronted with the alternative of wanting to cut and run, the challenge becomes to provide a strategy which has a greater chance of victory than what Bush is doing now. But the people who have to offer that strategy have so many problems with the war in the first place. Relying on them to fight out a victory is like relying on movie critics to make a better movie. It's just not going to happen. So the American people are left with the choice of having the person who wants to win it wage it, as opposed to the person who they're not sure wants to win it wage it. The clear choice might not be what those in the media so vigorously think it is.

Given these difficulties, the only thing left for the critics is the prospect of America turning on this war. And it's unlikely this will happen decisively before the election. The perception of this war as an already failed mission doesn't transcend beyond the left to a degree which would impact Iraq policy. America has its doubts. It doesn't think it's at the end of the road. No matter how badly they depict what is happening over there and where things are heading, the media's view of the war has yet to convert the undecided. The Iraqi interim government is till in place, Bush still vows to win the fight, insurgent attacks are isolated and not pervasive, and the alternatives are even more frightening than the what's happening now. Despite propaganda to the contrary, the claim of American disaster in Iraq is far too premature. And many Americans know that.

What makes matters even worse for the media is that they have been the ones controlling what is said and shown about the war in public. And they're still not convincing their audience. After all the stories about Abu Graib, the attention given to Michael Moore, Dick Clarke, and Kitty Kelly, the characterization of the latest violence as the final straw the broke the camel's back, the unending trivialities about George Bush's National guard service, and the morbid fascination with the US soldier body count, Americans haven't given up on Iraq. Which means they haven't given up on the man who gave them Iraq as a centre-piece of his presidency. It's not likely the media will notice, any time soon, the continuing resolve being displayed by the American people to get through this war successfully.

What the Bush critics fail to understand is just how complex it is to criticize a war which had the moral backing of the president and the American people. Even if you think the war stinks, you better have a pretty good explanation of how you get yourself out of it. And if you never thought America should win these things in the first place, how do you convince people that you want to win it now, or that withdrawal won't even make things worse? The conundrum of the anti-war American is this: how do you trash the war yet win the outcome? So far, nobody has provided a decent answer. And it may explain why Bush still has momentum on his way to the elections on November 2nd.

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