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Dubya Makes His War Pitch
Published on Sunday, January 15, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Dubya Makes His War Pitch
by Helen Thomas
 

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 war.

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 enemy."

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

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