November 18, 2005
The nadir of the war?By Rick Moran
Forgive me my pessimism today. I made the mistake of reading reaction in the mainstream media to Representative John Murtha's (D—PA) tearful tirade against the Iraq War on the floor of the House yesterday. The fact that he said the war was 'unwinnable' last year apparently isn't newsworthy. Was it the dramatic image of the old war hero tearing up when talking about his admirable visits to see wounded veterans? If so, why weren't the images of Iraqis weeping for joy after voting in the first free elections in their lives also considered fodder for the front pages and cable talk shows that now breathlessly report on the latest 'turning point' in the American people's support for the war?
We've had so many 'turning points' in this war that we've damn near gone around in a circle. Why should the lamentations of one Congressman, albeit a respected voice on military matters, cause such a stink? Of course, Murtha's diatribe has not occurred in a vacuum. It follows closely on the heels of an effort by Republicans in the Senate to try and outdo their Democratic colleagues in proving that election to high office does not necessarily mean one is blessed with common sense and wisdom. In fact, the 'Cut And Run But Not As Quickly As Michael Moore Would Have It' version of a 'Sense of the Senate' resolution on Iraq supported by Republicans only proves that, quite simply, the words 'sense' and 'Senate' used in the same sentence when referring to that august body is a misnomer.
And don't forget those poll numbers that show 57% of the American people believe that President Bush misled the country about intelligence in the lead up to the war with a similar majority believing the war was a mistake. Funny, but it never seems to make it into the same paragraph in stories reporting those grim statistics that 2/3 of the country is in favor of staying in Iraq 'until the job is done.' That would seem to cut the chocks from underneath the cut and run crowd except their allies in the mainstream press have better things to do than reporting anything that would upset the delicate imbalance they try to maintain when reporting war news.
Murtha may be forgiven his apostasy. The man has served his country in war and peace with a dedication and selflessness rarely seen these days. But so did Marshall Petain. (HT: Ed Morrisey). The French hero of Verdun and head of the collaborationist Vichy government believed that Nazism was the wave of the future and in order for France to survive, cooperation with Hitler seemed to be the most logical course. The fact that he was tragically wrong both about Nazism and the cost to France that such cooperation engendered has made history's judgment of his actions an object lesson for the Murthas of this world. For like the Nazis, the implacable Islamists currently blowing up our boys in Iraq will attack us wherever and whenever they choose. It doesn't matter if we are in Iraq, not in Iraq, setting a timetable to pull out, or simply wringing our hands over the whole mess. Their goal is death. Their agenda, mayhem.
It may be that this moment is indeed a turning point of sorts. The inconstancy of the Republican Senate about the war is reflective of something deeper abroad in the land. Call it a crisis of spirit or a loss of confidence on the part of the nation's political leadership but the sad truth is that the closer we get to outright victory in Iraq with our troops coming home in triumph the more we hear that the effort has been a failure and that only by leaving the field of battle to our enemies can we make the situation right.
The Iraqi government is facing enormous problems. Internal security, civil rights, factionalism, foreign interventionism, sectarianism, infrastructure; the list goes on and on. But forgotten in all of the naysaying and dire warnings of catastrophe is the fact that progress is being made — fitfully and not as quickly as we would like but progress nonetheless — on all of those problems.
In just a few weeks, the people of Iraq will hold an election under their newly minted constitution that, on paper, is a marvel of compromise and idealism. What kind of government emerges from these elections may not be very satisfying to the United States. But that is not the point. It will be the kind of government that the Iraqi people want. And that is what more than 2,000 American boys and girls have died trying to establish; a democratically elected government set in the heart of jihad territory. The Iraqis are about ready to spit in the eye of Osama bin Laden and all our weak kneed, faint of heart 'nervous nellies' can spout about is how much of a failure the war has been and how we should leave these courageous people to the tender mercies of al Zarqawi and his Merry Band of Beheaders.
Only recently has the President begun to refocus the country's attention on what is at stake in Iraq, something he should have been doing religiously these past two years but a task in which he has failed miserably. The belief by the White House that the American people wouldn't believe the lies and distortions about the justifications for the war by his political enemies has proven to be as bad a blunder as the Administration has ever made. Their concurrent strategy of relying on surrogates to define and restate our war aims has also been inadequate. For when it comes right down to it, the American people don't give a damn what Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman or even a respected Senator like John McCain says about the war. They need to hear it from the President himself.
The White House can perhaps be forgiven for not holding regular press conferences given the temperament and political leanings of the White House press corp. But that doesn't preclude the President from barnstorming the country, treating the war like a political campaign, hammering his opponents who are calling him a liar while urging, even begging the people for their support. Such a campaign probably wouldn't have much affect on his opposition — except perhaps to drive them into even more comical fits of apoplexy — but it would almost surely put some backbone into his wavering supporters in the Congress.
Whatever the President does, he must do it now and it must be a sustained effort. One reason for his low poll numbers despite a humming economy, falling gas prices, and real progress in Iraq is the sense among a majority of people that the country 'is on the wrong track.' By not getting up on his hind legs and fighting, thus leaving the field to his political enemies, the President has allowed the opposition to not only define the issues but also supply a skewed narrative to go with those issues.
The President, who has in the past demonstrated a reluctance for the attack, must now fight back as only a President can: by dominating the news day after day from the bully pulpit, shaming his enemies and encouraging his supporters. Otherwise, the tepid support demonstrated by Republicans of all stripes recently will continue with the very real danger that an anti—incumbent backlash in 2006 will cost the Republicans the Senate.
If this is the nadir of the war it is because the President has failed to keep Iraq in the forefront of the nation's consciousness. The fact that we are in a war for our survival and that Iraq is currently the major front in that conflict makes the President's reluctance to engage his political enemies all the more troubling.
However, it is still not to late to retrieve the situation. The President must demonstrate in a sustained and coherent manner the passion and leadership that he exhibited at the start of the Iraq campaign. His recent speeches would seem to indicate that he understands this which is heartening. But unless his focus remains firmly fixed on a defense of his decisions that took us to war as well as a patient approach to explaining why we must see the task through to victory, he stands to lose even more support in the Congress. In short, he must regain control of the debate over the war.
Following a disastrous defeat for the Union army at Fredericksburg, President Lincoln, for the only time in his Presidency, gave in to a feeling of hopelessness. He covered his face with his hands and said 'What will the country think?' The fact is, the country by that time had been conditioned to understand that the Civil War was going to be a long conflict and that setbacks were inevitable. The reason they were conditioned was because of Lincoln's steadfast belief in victory and his inspiring defense of his policies.
President Bush has the most powerful bully pulpit on the planet with a megaphone much larger than anything Mr. Lincoln could ever have imagined. The question foremost on the minds of his supporters should be, when is he going to start using them?
Rick Moran is a frequent contributor and is proprietor of the blog Right Wing Nut House