Richard W. Crockett
When President Bush claims that his war critics do not have a plan of their own, the question to be asked is, “a plan for what”? President Bush likes to say that “cut and run” is not a plan. If Bush casts the argument in this way or as “success or defeat,” it is a means of defining the issue of the war in Iraq in a manner that assures the conclusion that we must stay there a while longer, for after all, nobody wants to advocate defeat.
Political issue definition is one of the more important processes in trying to have a democratic government. In political conflicts, issues are defined, redefined, and displaced as part of the political process. The colloquial term for this is political spin. The parties to the conflict usually define the issue, but sometimes issues are defined as a result of events. When we define an issue we are making a political claim in behalf of something or some cause. In the case of the Iraq war we are seeing two conflicts. The conflict in Iraq is between Shiite and Sunni sects, and the conflict in the United Sates, which is between the proponents of the war and those who favor saving American lives.
One of the great political advantages for any president is his “bully pulpit.” The president has a platform from which he speaks and from which he is assured of attention when he wants it. The media covers his press conferences and major addresses such as the state of the Union address. If this pulpit is used skillfully, the public understanding of an issue will be in accord with that of the president. The problem is that the issue of the war in Iraq is being redefined before our eyes “on the ground,” as some say from their lofty perch.
Senator Warner, Republican from Virginia, is quoted by journalist Howard Finemen as saying, “the authorizing resolution permitting the U.S. invasion of Iraq, did not authorize our management of a civil war.” The problem for President Bush is that he is now facing a broad consensus of the American public, which believes that what is going on in Iraq is a civil war. This fact has served to move the debate away from all the lofty slogans which were useful in duping the American electorate in the early stages of the conflict: slogans such as “weapons of mass destruction,” “part of the war on terror,” giving the Iraqis “democratic government,” or worse, that the American troops in Iraq are somehow “fighting for our freedom.” All of these conceptions of our involvement in Iraq have been displaced by the ugly fact of sectarian violence, which is a struggle between variants of Islamic radicalism for the soul of Iraq. And it appears that Iraq does not have a democratic or humanitarian soul.
Some say that the “surge” is stay the course “on steroids.” I submit that an additional 20,000 troops is stay-the-course on something less than steroids. If we are refereeing this fight between Shiite and Sunni, it amounts to adding a little to the strength of the referee and a lot to the risk of individual American soldiers and marines. The thing to keep in mind is that the referee never engages in the fight with the fighters and therefore never wins or loses, but he sometimes declares when the fight is over. If as the referee we declare the fight to be over, and if after that, the Iraqis choose to continue the fight un-refereed, that is their choice.