Saturday, October 28, 2006

POLITICS, SEMANTICS, AND A REALITY CHECK

Most political observers feel that next month's mid-term elections will be a referendum on Iraq, and even on the president's handling of that war. And considering the latest polling data, Republicans, who've been arguing "stay the course" for well over a year, should be worried.

According to the latest Newsweek poll, conducted just last week, a majority of Americans (54%) think that military action in Iraq was wrong, and 65% think the U.S. is losing ground in Iraq. And in a CNN poll, conducted two weeks ago, 64% of respondents said they oppose the war.

Perhaps with that in mind, this week the White House announced it will no longer use the term "stay the course" in discussions about Iraq. Press Secretary Tony Snow said the White House wants to emphasize its flexibility on achieving its goals and no longer wants to talk about sticking to one approach.

Timing is everything in politics, and with elections looming, its difficult to say if the president's timing couldn't be better, or worse. Does this change in semantics make the president seem as if he finally "gets it", or does it simply make him seem out of touch and out of step with the rest of the country?

While many Democrats running for office this fall have been calling for a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq, Republicans have consistently derided the idea as "cutting and running".

Meanwhile, polling data aside, the recent White House move was likely prompted by the fact that a commission backed by President Bush has agreed that 'stay the course' is not working and that a phased withdrawal is now on the table. While it weighs alternatives, the 10-member commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III has agreed on one principle.

"It's not going to be 'stay the course,' " said one participant. "The bottom line is, [current U.S. policy] isn't working…. There's got to be another way."

In a recent television interview, Baker, a longtime Republican and Secretary of State in the first Bush Administration, said, "There'll probably be some things in our report that the administration might not like."

Two options under consideration would represent reversals of U.S. policy: withdrawing American troops in phases, and, incredibly, bringing neighboring Iran and Syria into a joint effort to stop the fighting. Iran, if you remember, was famously on President Bush's "axis of evil" list, along with Iraq and North Korea. Now the U.S. may use one "evil" nation to help subdue another.

While the president talks of "winning" in Iraq, many wonder just what exactly that means. To spell it out, communications strategists working with House Republicans circulated a three-page memo last week that describes winning as, "helping the Iraqis achieve stability and security and doing it as quickly and effectively as possible in order to bring our troops home.''

Of course that says nothing about democracy, which many thought the U.S. had been fighting for all along. But then again, the reasons for the war have changed numerous times. Now its about stability and security. Sometimes you take what you can get, if you can get anything at all.

According to Baker, instead of trying to bring democracy to all nations in the Middle East, the U.S. should define success as achieving "representative government, not necessarily democracy."

So much for good intentions. Perhaps we'll have to leave it to the history books to decide why over 2800 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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