President George W. Bush, backed by a nearly united Republican Party, took the US into war against Iraq. The Bush administration, resolutely supported by a phalanx of neocon ivory tower warriors, GOP-minded pundits, and grassroots conservative activists, undertook to build democracy in Mesopotamia. For nearly three years a right-wing Greek chorus has spouted the president’s praises as he insisted that all was well with America’s newest military venture in the Mideast.
Yet things haven’t worked out as expected. However, war supporters insist that the problems have nothing to do with the brilliant leadership exercised by the valiant President Bush. To the contrary, it is someone else’s fault. Indeed, it is everyone else’s fault. At least, it is the fault of anyone who has dared criticize the valiant president and his brilliant leadership.
The latest manifestation of this attitude is the oft-repeated argument that all good patriots must back the “surge,” the president’s belated, half-hearted escalation in Iraq. To oppose the Bush plan, to even criticize it, is to undercut America’s troops and give aid and comfort to America’s enemies. To advocate another course, any alternative course, is to invite jihadists to terrorize the US homeland.
Indeed, as the situation in Iraq has worsened, the tendency to ring the wagons and demand absolute obedience has increased. The atmosphere in some quarters of the dwindling pro-war caucus is akin to that of the Führer bunker in early 1945. The problem is not any failure of the supreme leader or his vision, but the inconstancy of his lieutenants and the wimpishness of his people. Victory is a simple matter of WILL.
For instance, Paul Morin, national commander of the National Legion, circulated an opinion piece entitled “Iraq Victory Requires Renewed Resolve.” Morin’s message was simple. While Winston Churchill advocated resolve, “America’s stiff upper lip is starting to quiver.” People need to “stand united in their support of the global war on terrorism,” in which he apparently included Iraq. To not do so would be to “cut and run,” or “Surrender Somalia-style.”
Apparently victory is ours if only we close our eyes, click our heels, and say “George Bush” three times. Explained Morin: “Give our soldiers the strength of a galvanized homefront so we can win the peace in Iraq.” Columnist Paul Greenberg made the same contention: “Unless the homefront stands united, no new general in Iraq, even one with a new strategy that has begun to produce results, will be able to stave off defeat.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has exclaimed: “Any [legislative] resolution that could be construed by American forces that Congress has lost faith in their ability to be successful in Iraq should be rejected because it rings of defeatism at a time when we should be focused on victory.” Commentator Quin Hillyer said “What is lacking in Iraq is not winnability but will.”
Liz Cheney, vice presidential daughter and former assistant secretary of state, recently made the same “mind over matter” assertion in the Washington Post: “American troops will win if we show even one-tenth the courage here at home that they show every day on the battlefield.” So forget the idea of dissenting from failed policies from a failed president. Argued Cheney: “It’s time for everyone Republicans and Democrats to stop trying to find ways for America to quit. Victory is the only option. We must have the fortitude and the courage to do what it takes. In the words of Winston Churchill, we must deserve victory. We must be in it to win.”
Her father has offered a similar argument. Vice President Richard Cheney contended: “we have to have the stomach to finish the task.” Our adversaries “say the United States doesn’t have the stomach for the fight.” Not that he had the stomach to even start a similar task in Vietnam a conflict he worked hard to avoid because, as he later explained, he “had other priorities.” But never mind. (Moving increasingly distant from reality and the truth, he recently denounced as “hogwash” the question whether congressional Republicans “are now seriously questioning your credibility, because of the blunders and the failures.” Never mind the bump, Mr. Vice President. The Titanic is unsinkable.)
Since many war-hawks believe that all they have to do is believe in the president to ensure victory in Iraq, they are furious with just about everyone for turning into gutless wimps. Much of their ire is directed against legislators who oppose sending an additional 21,500 Marines and soldiers to Iraq. (In fact, Stanley Kurtz of the Hudson Institute blamed the opposition of Democratic doves an impotent minority for years for making “it tough for the administration to admit errors on troop strength and correct course” from the very beginning. Under this theory, the new Democratic majority has only made an existing bad situation worse.)
The Democrats have been divided between those who support passing a non-binding resolution of disapproval and those who want to cut off funds. In practice, the Democratic majority is too divided to stop the war, a division which the White House has exploited. Noted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “The president knows that because the troops are in harm’s way that we won’t cut off the resources. That’s why he’s moving so quickly to put them in harm’s way.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden has remained hopeful that something good will come from Congress’s efforts: “If you really want to change the situation on the ground, demonstrate to the president that he’s on his own. That will spark real change.” Of course, even President Bush, long lost in a fantasy world, presumably finally realizes that he’s on his own. But that obviously doesn’t matter to him.
The president appears to be committed to his policy, irrespective of consequences. Certainly the administration does not plan on being deterred by congressional displeasure. Vice President Cheney was dismissive: “in terms of this effort, the president has made his decision. We’ve consulted extensively with [legislators]. We’ll continue to consult with the Congress. But the fact of the matter is, we need to get the job done.”
The first response of hawks to Democratic attacks was silly: don’t criticize our plan without offering yours. For instance, the Washington Examiner editorialized that “It’s irresponsible in the extreme to reject Bush’s last ditch attempt to stabilize Iraq out of hand without suggesting a better way to win.” Actually, it’s quite easy to reject a half-baked plan that mimics past strategies which have failed, an approach that would be administered by the same inept officials responsible for today’s chaos and violence. Moreover, there may be no better way to win. Indeed, creating a stable, pro-American democracy in Iraq may never have been realistic.
In a similar vein, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the Democrats’s attempt “to try to micromanage” battlefield tactics: “You can’t run a war by a committee of, you know, 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate.” Similarly, editorialized the Wall Street Journal: “What we are witnessing is a Federalist Papers illustration of criticism and micromanagement without responsibility.” Actually, that sounds more like the administration’s conduct of the war. The president’s flight from responsibility for Iraq is what led to the Democratic victory last November and the new Democratic majority’s attempt to stop the Bush escalation.
So it seems likely that congressional opposition will have no practical impact on the administration’s course. But the Democrats don’t have to actually do anything to anger the neocons and other deskbound warriors. The possibility that Congress might merely state the obvious Iraq is a bloody mess and the proposed “surge” is an under-manned fraud has left the war caucus apoplectic.
For instance, “The Democrats are going to have to make a choice here,” said presidential press secretary Tony Snow: “No. 1, do you want Iraq to succeed?” Sometime Republican candidate and office-holder Howard Kaloogian charged in summer 2004: Democrats “have used some of the most irresponsible language in seeking to advance their liberal political goals by trying to divide our nation and erode support for our military and the war effort.” Columnist David Limbaugh has complained about “Democrats undermining our war effort.” Democratic legislators are “favoring defeat over victory in the Iraqi theater,” contended the Center for Security Policy. Columnist Mona Charen said that “the Democrats do not wish to win in Iraq and will do nothing to further the cause of victory.”
Blogger and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt sharply denounced congressional resolutions of disapproval as intended “to undercut the war, endanger the troops and weaken the presidency.” Internet columnist Lorie Byrd argued that “There is a difference, however, between disagreement over methods and implementation, and the more basic disagreement over whether or not the final goal is to pursue victory, rather than defeat through surrender.”
However, what the Democrats want really doesn’t matter. Whether or not they desire victory, merely criticizing the administration means that they are making victory impossible. Asked Byrd: “If it were clear to the Iraqi people that politicians in DC were committed to finishing the mission in Iraq, would the attitude of the people be different? If politicians and antiwar activists had not accused our own troops of engaging in torture, and worse, would world opinion, and specifically the opinion of the Iraqi people, be different?” (What she really meant, of course, is what if politicians and antiwar activists had not stated the sad truth obvious to all that some troops had murdered and tortured Iraqis?, but never mind the facts.)
It’s no longer just Democrats who pose a problem for the avid warmongers, however. Republican legislators are growing increasingly uneasy as well.
For the biggest war enthusiasts, GOP hostility is the toughest burden to bear. It no longer is just Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who voted to authorize war but soon began criticizing the administration’s gross mismanagement. Now even the ultimate establishment paladin, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), has admitted: “I am not confident that President Bush’s plan will succeed.” Horrors. The shame. The outrage.
In November 2005 blogger Will Malven denounced Republican Senators who simply voted to mandate that the executive issue a quarterly report on Iraq: “What is really disgusting is that, not only have the Republicans stabbed President Bush in the back, but by expressing distrust in the Iraqi efforts, they endangered the American troops by added defeatist propaganda to the terrorist’s arsenal.” Now several Republican legislators are preparing to vote to formally criticize the administration’s escalation plan.
Hugh Hewitt has launched an effort to deny campaign funds to any Republican who backs a resolution criticizing the administration’s escalation. He is urging people to promise to close their wallets to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the chairman, “Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the reelection of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.”
It is hard to be a war-hawk irrespective of consequences when so many elected officials turn out to be closet peaceniks. And even worse, traitorous closet peaceniks.
To many war enthusiasts, criticism, any criticism, is the same as treason. Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified that a resolution of disapproval “emboldens the enemy and our adversaries.” Indeed, he added, “any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks.” The vice president said that the push for withdrawal “validates the strategy of the terrorists.” An article by Ann Coulter was entitled: “The Democratic Party: A Vast Sleeper Cell.” Hewitt contended: “Many Democrats are willing to encourage the enemy if it means hurting George W. Bush.”
Sen. Graham argued, “if you think the US is doomed to fail, please remember that the enemy is listening.” Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) complained a year ago that “Any talk, even so much as a murmur, of leaving now or political timelines just emboldens the enemy.” Publisher Edward Daley termed the Democrats “The Party of Treason” and contended that criticism “amounts to treason, as it does indeed give ‘aid and comfort’ to our enemies, and further endangers the lives” of US personnel.
“The terrorists couldn’t have better allies than certain politicians here in the US,” declared Melanie Morgan of Move America Forward. Washington Times columnist Diana West said that any congressional vote against the war “goes straight to our enemies, who will hunker down to wait for a divided America to up and crumble.” Mark Alexander, publisher of The Patriot Post, an internet newsletter, declared that stating doubts about victory in Iraq “is not just unpatriotic, it is downright traitorous.”
Contended the Wall Street Journal: “Of course the enemy would take comfort from any Senate declaration that Mr. Bush lacks domestic support.” John Raese, who unsuccessfully opposed Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) last November, charged that the latter’s votes to withdraw US troops “give comfort to the enemy.” Oliver North denounced “defeatists,” claiming that Democratic criticism “has unquestionably emboldened our adversaries and disheartened our allies overseas.” Internet columnist Doug Patton bluntly described “the actions of liberals” as “treason.”
Hugh Hewitt, a de facto member of President Bush’s personal staff, contended that “Democrats are willing to encourage the enemy,” that is, increase the latter’s “will to fight on, and their courage to do so even in the face of the arrival of reinforcements. It also means to increase substantially the likelihood of redoubled and retripled efforts on their part to kill American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”
In the same vein, declared the Center for Security Policy, “It is hard to imagine a greater incentive to more attacks against Iraqi civilians, security personnel, government officials and their families and, yes, against our own and other Coalition forces” than Democratic criticism. The Center added ominously: “we must also hold accountable those who are, in effect, rewarding our enemies.” Radio talk show host Michael Reagan was more specific: Democratic National Committee Chairman “Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war.”
Moreover, any criticism of Bush administration failures is believed to axiomatically hurt the troops. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said that “it is just inconceivable and truly incorrigible that in the midst of the war, that the Democratic leaders would be conducting guerrilla warfare on American troops.” Rep. Johnson charged: “It hurts to think what the men and women in harm’s way would believe when they heard the news that someone in Congress was not behind America’s mission.”
The vice president said that any resolution would be “detrimental from the standpoint of the troops.” In the view of the Wall Street Journal, a simple congressional resolution disapproving of the war “undermines public support for the Iraq effort.” Of course, the Journal added, “all of this undermines the morale of the military and makes their task that much harder on the ground.” Michael Reagan charged that Democrats have been “undermining the valiant efforts of our servicemen and women.” Lorie Byrd said simply that Democratic statements “declaring Iraq a failure and accusing US troops of improper behavior has affected their morale.”
Of course, everything is the media’s fault. Blogger Steve Schippert has denounced “anti-military media coverage developed during the Vietnam era and skillfully maintained and nearly perfected since then.” Lorie Byrd complained about “one-sided reporting,” that “When the war is going well, it is simply not considered news.” (She doesn’t point to any time when the occupation was going well, but never mind.) In AIMReport Marilyn Brannan asked: “Will the Media defeat the US in Iraq?” Washington Times Editorial Page Editor Tony Blankley admitted to being "filled with a fury that we have a system of journalism that permits people with such mentalities to poison the minds of the world with their malice.”
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said press negativity “is absolutely detrimental to the morale of our forces.” Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute contended that what “we have discovered in Iraq is the weakest link in the ability of the United States to sustain military operations overs. That link is the US media. They are the Islamists’ best friends.” Col. Jeffrey Snow, who commands a brigade in Baghdad, complained that “when the news is not balanced and it’s always bad, that clearly leads to negative perceptions back home.”
However, it turns out that the US media is not only omnipresent and all-powerful in America. US journalists apparently control events in Iraq itself. Byrd asked: “If all the successes of American troops in Iraq had been reported as studiously as the setbacks, would terrorists have been able to convince their young, impressionable followers that they were winning?” Indeed, she went even further, wondering “if the rallying cry [of the Iraq war to jihadists] was a result of the war itself or if it was the result of the media interpretation of the war presented through anti-American media outlets like BBC, al-Jazeera and CNN International as a losing effort in which Christian American troops were torturing and murdering innocent Muslims?”
Townhall.com columnist Todd Manzi charged: “We know how important the will of the American people is regarding the war. Doesn’t the will of the terrorists matter also? If their cause looks lost, they will attack less. If they think they have a chance to win, they will attack more. The irresponsible, antiwar-biased reporting from the Associated Press … can only have encouraged our enemy to keep trying. Terrorists may have been given the false hope that all is not lost for them.”
Perhaps most amazing of all, it turns out that even when journalists are correct, they are at fault. As Stanley Kurtz of the Hudson Institute explained on National Review online:
"[C]onservative distrust of the media’s very real bias has inclined us to dismiss reports about problems in Iraq that are real.
"In the end, I think the media bears fundamental responsibility for this. Had they been less-biased had they reported acts of heroism and the many good things we have done in Iraq I think conservatives would actually have taken their report of the problems in Iraq more seriously. In effect, the media’s consistent liberal bias discredits even its valid reports."
Finally, the general population is to blame. Melanie Morgan complained that American troops are “being undermined here at home by shameful, guilt-ridden, spineless folks in the antiwar crowd.” Former House Speaker Denny Hastert charged that war critics would “prefer that the United States surrender to terrorists.” Sen. Graham lauded the administration’s investigation of domestic protestors: “The administration has not only the right, but the duty, in my opinion, to pursue Fifth Column movements.”
David Horowitz of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture warned: “the Fifth Column in this country has attempted to sabotage America’s war in Iraq.” Wade Zirkle, chairman of Vets for Freedom Action Fund, denounced “defeatism” and “defeatist radicals.” Book author Jeffrey Lord criticized “the chorus of modern day Copperheads doing their best to undermine America’s will.”
In 2005 the American Legion blasted all antiwar “public protests” and “media events.” National commander Thomas Cadmus explained: “The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples.”
Even worse is the disreputable role of average Americans. Stanley Kurtz complained that “the constraints of domestic American public opinion do not match up to what is actually needed to bring stability and democracy to a country like Iraq.” Roll Call’s Morton Kondracke was even blunter: “President Bush bet his presidency and America’s world leadership on the war in Iraq. Tragically, it looks as though he bit off more than the American people were willing to chew.” Ungrateful plebeians, rejecting the war generously provided for them by their betters.
The consistent attempt at blame-shifting by the most extreme hawks is truly amazing. People who normally denounce those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions, who act like victims, who blame everyone else for their mistakes, are engaging in precisely the same behavior. Iraq? Problems? Not our fault. We dreamed up a truly fabulous little war. It’s really gone quite well, filled with good news you know, increased cell phone use, more-frequent trash pick-ups, new school openings. What of thousands of dead Americans and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis? The Democrats, the media, and the people are to blame. If they didn’t say anything about the problems, the problems wouldn’t exist. At least, no one in Iraq would know that things weren’t going as well as the president claimed if American journalists did their duty and parroted administration claims. After all, if no reporter witnesses an IED attack on an American convoy or a car bombing in an Iraqi market, it doesn’t exist. By telling the truth, war critics are a bunch of wimps, cowards, defeatists, and traitors, undercutting the US and aiding America’s enemies.
It’s a wonderful tale. Too bad it is completely false.
President George W. Bush peopled his administration with officials who had long desired to initiate war against Iraq. After 9/11, his administration inaugurated a consistently deceptive, misleading campaign to make the case for war. Essentially everything he and his officials said about WMDs and Iraq’s terrorist connections were false. Professed concern for democracy was undercut by the fact that the president waited a year after taking office to mention Iraq, and pressed for action only long after the worst humanitarian excesses had occurred.
Once at war, the administration blundered at every turn. Blinded by overweaning hubris, military and political officials alike made a succession of bad decisions that resulted in a violent breakdown of Iraqi society, a worsening insurgency, and a fracturing of the already-divided polity. Even as the situation deteriorated, the president and his aides denied reality and continued to paint a rosey scenario. Constant promises of turning points turned out to be constantly false.
Along the way the administration’s performance failed to meet basic levels of competence. Reconstruction efforts were a corrupt disaster. The administration provided too few troops and too little equipment (such as body armor and armored vehicles). Yet the president was loudly cheered on by his war-mongering propaganda chorus, which demonized anyone who dared question the imminent establishment of a peaceful, liberal, pro-American, democratic paradise along the Euphrates.
Despite desperate attempts to sugar-coat the situation in Iraq, the bad news eventually became evident to even America’s most isolated partisan the president. With many of the neocon architects of the war now jumping ship, denying any responsibility for anything that has happened, the administration concocted the so-called surge.
Yet for all of the fanfare, the administration’s plan is a paltry effort. Total US forces will remain under the 165,000 peak more than a year ago, as well as far below the number indicated by current anti-insurgency doctrine, developed in part by Gen. Petraeus, newly entrusted with the war effort.
Moreover, the latest plan mimics the recent “surge” of American troops in Baghdad, which did little to moderate the far more pronounced “surge” in sectarian killings. In short, few serious analysts expect any permanent benefit from the administration’s newest escalation. It is far too modest to have much chance of affecting Iraq’s ultimate course.
Nor, apparently, do some administration officials privately expect the policy to succeed. Late last month NBC reported that one Bush aide “admitted to us today that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one because the American people have run out of patience and President Bush is running out of time to achieve some kind of success in Iraq.” That is, the Bush escalation is essentially a PR gimic, a desperate attempt to hold off the growing mob of disaffected Americans before they besiege the White House.
It comes as no surprise, then, that support for both the president and the war among the public and even the military has fallen. A recent Military Times poll found that only 35 percent of respondents approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq. In just two year the number believing that success is likely has dropped from 83 percent to 50 percent.
The problem is not defeatists and traitors, whether in the Democratic Party, media, or elsewhere. It is the reality on the ground, which has proved to be so very different than that promised by the president back during the “mission accomplished” days. It is a reality that even the president hinted at last December when he argued: “We’re not winning, we’re not losing.”
Even so, the uber-hawks say that to not genuflect when the president and his aides walk by is to back defeat. To not lustily cheer the new program, assert that it will achieve victory forthwith, and shout administration hosannahs from the treetops is treason.
It matters not what the president proposes to do. The president, wrong about Iraq at every point so far, nevertheless must be treated as if he was never wrong. The president’s plan, though reminiscent of other failed initiatives, must be treated as if it had been brought down from God by Moses, along with the Ten Commandments.
Must democracy be built on deceit? What the war’s cheerleaders are really saying is that it doesn’t matter how the conflict is going. We must lie to the public, our troops, and the rest of the world. We must claim that everything is peachy-keen and jim-dandy just wonderful, thank you! no matter what is happening.
Moreover, we cannot hold the administration accountable for its manifold mistakes. Never mind that the president and his aides have been uniformly arrogant, ignorant, deceitful, and incompetent. No ill word must pass our lips about their conduct. We must not criticize them even if their past failures make future success unlikely. After all, given the president’s consistent mismanagement of the war so far, who other than war propagandists who have tied themselves to his administration could have any confidence in his ability to perform better in the future? But to make this point is unpatriotic, even treasonous.
Conservatives once criticized unnecessary wars and the mismanagement of unnecessary wars. During President Bill Clinton’s misguided adventure in Kosovo, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Brent Bozell III, Angelo Codevilla, Tom Delay, Sean Hannity, Bill Bennett, and Joe Scarborough were just a few of the conservative luminaries who criticized the war even as it was being fought. And they were vilified by the Clinton administration and its hawkish supporters for being insufficiently patriotic.
But Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) answered both the Democratic warmongers of 1999 and today’s conservative war caucus when he spoke on December 19, 1941, less than two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor: “As a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government.”
"[T]oo many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think that it will give some comfort to the enemy to know that there is such criticism. If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur."
The Bush administration and its coterie of war supporters have squandered the trust of the American people. Their misjudgments, mistakes, and deceits have resulted in thousands of dead and maimed Americans while turning Iraq into a vortex of sectarian violence and increasing the threat of global terrorism. The architects and advocates of this war should indeed, must be criticized. Our responsibility as citizens in a democratic republic demand no less. However painful dissent might be in a time of war, the cost to America of shutting off debate would be far greater.