Published on Monday, June 19, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Reclaim the Issues - "Occupation, Not War"
by Thom Hartmann
Every time the media - or a Democrat - uses the phrase "War in Iraq" they are promoting one of Karl Rove's most potent Republican Party frames.
There is no longer a war against Iraq.
It ended in May of 2003, when George W. Bush stood below a "Mission Accomplished" sign aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and correctly declared that we had "victoriously" defeated the Iraqi army and overthrown their government.
Our military machine is tremendously good at fighting wars - blowing up infrastructure, killing opposing armies, and toppling governments. We did that successfully in Iraq, in a matter of a few weeks. We destroyed their army, wiped out their air defenses, devastated their Republican Guard, seized their capitol, arrested their leaders, and took control of their government. We won the war. It's over.
What we have now is an occupation of Iraq.
The occupation began when the war ended, and continues to this day. According to our own Pentagon estimates, at least ninety five percent of those attacking our soldiers are Iraqi civilians who view themselves as anti-occupation fighters. And last week both the Defense Minister and the Vice President of Iraq asked us for a specific date on which the occupation would end.
The distinction between "war" and "occupation" is politically critical for 2006 because wars can be won or lost, but occupations most honorably end by redeployments.
We won World War II and it carried Roosevelt to great political heights. We lost the Vietnam War and it politically destroyed Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jerry Ford. And as we fought to a draw in Korea, it so wounded Harry S. Truman politically that he didn't have a strong enough base of support to run for re-election against Dwight D. Eisenhower.
American's don't like to lose or draw at a war. Even people who oppose wars find it uncomfortable, at some level, to lose, and Republican strategists are using this psychological reality for political gain. When wars are won - even when they're totally illegal and undeclared wars, like Reagan's adventure in Grenada - it tends to create a national good feeling.
On the other hand, when arguably just wars, or at least legally defensible "police action" wars, like Korea, are not won, they wound the national psyche. And losing a war - like the German loss of WWI - can be so devastating psychologically to a citizenry that it sets up a nation for strongman dictatorship to "restore the national honor."
On the other hand, an "occupation" is something that logically should one day end, and, if it's an expensive occupation in lives or money, will find popular support to end as soon as possible.
The various colonial powers of Europe ended their occupations of most of Africa, for example, and there was no national emotional pain associated with it. Churchill's withdrawal from Uganda increased his popularity with Brits.
While Americans hate to lose wars, we're generally pleased to wrap up occupations. We had no problem with ending our occupation of The Philippines, numerous South Pacific islands, and the redeployment of our troops stationed in nations conquered in World War II (Japan and Germany) from broad-based "occupation" to locally based "assistance." (Although we still have troops in Japan and Germany, neither country has been functionally "occupied" by us since the late 1940s and the "legal" occupation of both ended shortly thereafter. It should also be remembered that not a single American life was lost because of hostile fire in either brief post-war occupation.)
If Democrats can succeed over the next three months in making it clear to average Americans that the "War In Iraq" ended in 2003, and that we're now engaged in an "Occupation Of Iraq," then Democratic suggestions to end or greatly diminish the occupation will take on a resonance and cogency that will both help them in an election year, and help to bring our soldiers to safety and Iraq to stability.
On the other hand, if Democrats are perceived as pushing for America to "lose the war in Iraq," they will be vilified and damned by Republicans and many swing voters, and could thus lose big in 2006.
The "War" is over. The Occupation has now lasted 3 years and one month - far longer than necessary.
Here's a "for example" scenario - fictitious at this moment - of how Democrats should play it out:
[Tim Russert]: So, Senator Reid, what do you think of this most recent news from the War In Iraq?
If the Democrats don't shift the discussion from "war" to "occupation," the Republicans will succeed in painting them as being "in favor of losing a war," which will destroy their electoral possibilities.
Instead, every time a Republican or a member of the press uses the Rove slogan "War in Iraq," Democrats need to correct them by saying, "You mean the Occupation of Iraq..."
Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. www.thomhartmann.com He's also a former marketing and communications senior executive, NLP Trainer, and consultant to government agencies and companies including many in the Fortune 500. His most recent books include "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?" and "Ultimate Sacrifice." His next book, due out this autumn, is "Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It."