Tuesday, August 29, 2006

We Need Improved Communication About Iraq

A year and a week ago I griped here about the poor job President Bush was doing communicating with Americans about the war in Iraq. I cited Richard Nixon’s statement that it is the president’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.” I whined that the President was failing in this regard, and was merely trotting out the same old, increasingly unconvincing ‘stay the course’ rhetoric.

It’s no secret that the political left has strongly taken the President to task on this issue since that time, with some elements going to ultra extremes. Those that suppose that all conservative thought is well represented in radio talk shows seem to have the idea that all conservatives stand squarely behind the President regardless of the obvious problems in Iraq. However, an increasing number of conservatives are critical of the administration’s efforts in Iraq, or even in just communicating about Iraq.

Conservative political pundit John Fund decries the President in this article, which is subtitled “The president just doesn't communicate anymore.” Eminent conservative writer Mark Steyn, who regularly argues for more serious military intervention in the Middle East, has increasingly expressed dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of Iraq. For example, in this article he laments that despots that cowered before and/or paid obeisance to the U.S. back in 2001 now do as they please because they no longer consider us a serious threat.

Well known conservatives David Frum, Newt Gingrich, Michael Ledeen, and Michael Rubin (none of whom are currently elected officials) all take their shots at the administration on this issue here, mostly in the form of advice. Even conservative defense expert Frederick Kagan warns here that fresh strategies are needed, saying, “It seems very clear that we long ago passed the point at which steadfastness becomes simple stubbornness and commitment to an idea becomes refusal to adjust to reality.” (See also here. Note that, like Condoleeza Rice, Kagan started out as a Cold War and Russian expert and is retooling to employ his skills in the current conflict.)

Indeed, war historian Victor Davis Hanson says here, “What, then, is needed — aside from crushing the jihadists and securing Afghanistan and Iraq — is more articulation and explanation.” He argues, however, that the President’s communication task regarding Iraq and the Middle East borders on impossible. He contends that the difficulty of communicating the complexity of the situation in the Middle East would be difficult enough for someone with “the eloquence of a Lincoln or Churchill” to manage.

Hanson says, “the administration’s problem is not really its (sound) strategy, nor its increasingly improved implementation that we see in Baghdad, but simply an American public that so far understandably cannot easily differentiate millions of brave Iraqis and Afghans, who risk their lives daily to hunt terrorists and ensure reform, from the Islamists of the Muslim Street who broadcast their primordial hatred for Israel and the United States incessantly.” Heck, this is even difficult for people educated in this arena to understand.

I saw a glimmer of hope last week when the administration had U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad publish this op-ed piece outlining the Iraqi government’s plan to secure Baghdad. Of course, our people are the ones that are holding the fledgling government’s hand through this process, forcing them to do it and providing resources (including leadership) for its implementation. Khalilzad’s article is a noteworthy start, but the administration must do a lot more than this if it is going to get its message out to the American people.

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