President Bush is taking the advice of Sen. John Warner, a Republican
Party elder, who urged him to get out and sell the American public on the Iraq
After Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, gave
that advice on Nov. 28, the president embarked on a series of six
campaign-style speeches that have tried to justify the U.S.-led attack on Iraq
and the continuing occupation.
Bush also got the same get-out-and-sell-sell-sell advice last week from
the former secretaries of state and secretaries of defense who met him briefly
in the White House. They warned the president that he would have to build
political support on the home front for the war -- or the war critics would
become more vocal, as they did in the Vietnam War era. Back then, those
widespread protests led to congressional opposition to the war and forced the
United States to end 15 years of active military involvement in Southeast Asia.
The former secretaries told Bush that he should be more active in his
efforts to explain the reasons for the United States to be in Iraq --
especially as the human and financial costs mount.
As part of his marketing campaign to persuade the American public "to stay
the course," the president is insisting that he has a strategy for victory in
the nearly three-year war. This is the same commander in chief who declared
"mission accomplished" on May 1, 2003.
As opposition to the war grows, Bush seems to be more frantic in flailing
against war critics.
In Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday, the president warned that the critics are
hurting the troops who put their lives on the line. He also threatened
political repercussions for such opposition.
"I can understand people being abhorrent about war," he said. "War is
terrible, but one way people can help as we're coming down the pike in the 2006
elections, is remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in
harm's way, and the effect that rhetoric can have in emboldening or weakening
The Democratic response -- mainly from Senate Democratic leader Harry
Reid, D-Nev. -- is that Bush was using "our troops as a shield against
legitimate criticism of his war policy."
In a speech to the friendly Veterans of Foreign Wars Monday, Bush derided
the war's detractors, saying Americans know the difference between "honest
critics" and "those who claim we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of
Israel, or because we misled the American people."
That was an interesting commentary by Bush. Some of us waited breathlessly
to hear him say what really impelled him to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003 --
but he didn't oblige. His previous rationales -- that Iraq had weapons of
mass destruction and that Iraq had ties to the al Qaeda network -- have
turned out to be bogus.
We do know, from the memoirs of former aides, congressional inquiries and
leaked British documents, that Iraq was high on Bush's agenda as soon after he
took office on Jan. 20, 2001. But the reasons remain mysterious.
Bush's new emphasis is on "winning" the war and "complete victory" is
questionable and suggests that he has a military triumph in mind. That's not
going to happen in Iraq, where U.S. military leaders repeatedly stress that a
political solution is the key to ending the conflict there. Part of the
solution should be the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Bush also claims to welcome next month's congressional hearings on his
explosive order to eavesdrop on Americans without court approval. Those
hearings will be "good for democracy," the president insists.
What would really be good for democracy is for the American people to know
what the president is up to -- and why.
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle