Apparently I am not the only conservative that is less than happy with President Bush’s (and his administration’s) lousy communication about the war. See David Frum’s 8/23/05 post on this issue. Daniel Henninger posted an article on 8/5/05 practically begging the administration to leverage the passions resulting from the 7/7 bombings in London to help people understand what we are doing in Iraq.
I think the Bush team has missed many an opportunity to give Americans cogent reasons beyond the same tired rhetoric to support the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not looking for propaganda or worn out phrases. I want solid up-to-date information on a regular basis that helps me understand what we’re doing over there and why we’re doing it. And I want it from our nation's leader, not just from journalists like Victor Davis Hanson.
Reliable poll numbers show that Americans’ support for the war effort is sliding. 20 years ago former President Nixon listed what a president needs to successfully prosecute a foreign war (see my post on this issue): 1) It must be vital to America’s national interest. 2) It must be winnable with the means that we have to commit to it. 3) The public and the Congress must support it. (See here #16)
Nixon noted in his book that in a democratic society a leader has a limited time to prosecute a foreign war because public opinion will inevitably wane with time regardless of how strong it was at the outset. For that reason, he says that it is absolutely necessary to have a set of objectives and an exit strategy clearly defined before committing to the effort. Many Americans feel that these two essential elements have been overlooked in the current conflict.
Nixon goes on to state that leaders cannot simply follow uninformed public opinion when defining national interests. However, it is the leader’s “responsibility to educate the people and the Congress about where our vital interests are and then gain support for whatever military actions may be necessary to protect them.” (See here #21)
Public opinion is turning against the war effort simply because the President and his administration are failing to provide effective communication and leadership on the issue. While the President has repeatedly said the same words over and over, it should be clear by now that he is failing to help the public understand our objectives.
The President needs to do something different. For the good of the country he needs to stand up and provide the kind of communication Nixon says a leader must provide. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be Bush’s style. He has followed the same tack with Social Security reform and it isn’t gaining much support either.
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) made news the other day by saying that Iraq is looking more and more like Vietnam (see here). Conservatives promptly trashed Hagel (see here), calling him a media lapdog and noting that he is merely starting his 2008 presidential campaign early. I think Hagel is wrong on some points, but he is correct that some parallels exist between Iraq and Vietnam.
In Vietnam we achieved a tenuous peace, but than threw it away, sacrificing millions in the offing merely to satisfy anti-war political sentiment at home. We could repeat the same mistake in Iraq, or we could stay the course as the President repeatedly says we must do (see here). But if the President is serious about the American people staying the course in Iraq he must regularly give them compelling reasons for doing so.
Please, Mr. President, stand up and lead.