Between Rhetoric and Reality
It was another bloody day in Iraq yesterday. At least 95 Iraqis were killed or found dead, while 11 American soldiers and a civilian journalist died in attacks across the country. As the violence raged in Iraq, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) appeared on Fox News Sunday where he tepidly declared that conservatives "are supporting the President" and his war policy. Boehner, however, also indicated that the support of conservatives in Congress might be short-lived. "By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B," said Boehner. If conservatives follow the example of the Los Angeles Times editorial page yesterday and finally break from President Bush on Iraq -- which some are already beginning to do -- they will join the majority of Americans who have been asking for a Plan B for a long time. More and more conservatives continue to break away from the President. In a recently-released Newsweek poll, Bush's approval rating sunk to an all-time low of 28 percent, tied for the lowest of any president since Harry Truman. In the poll, which was taken the day after Bush vetoed a $124 billion war funding bill passed by Congress that had timetables for withdrawal, 62 percent of respondents said that they felt Bush's recent actions in Iraq "show he is stubborn and unwilling to admit his mistakes." Struggling to maintain conservative unity around his stay-the-course policy, Bush and his dead-end supporters have ratcheted up their rhetorical myths about the war.
MYTH #1 -- AMERICANS VOTED FOR THE SURGE: "Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted change in our strategy in Iraq," said Bush on April 24. "I listened. Today General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course." Two days later, Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino repeated this talking point, saying "the American people voted for a change in strategy in Iraq -- and the President listened." Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has also used this line of argument to bolster support for the President's escalation plan. "They [Democrats] campaigned for changing the course the administration was on last November," Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post. "Which the president has done." The "surge," the change to which Bush, Perino, and Krauthammer are referring, however, was not supported by the American people. In January, while the escalation plan was being debated, two-thirds of Americans -- 66 percent -- opposed sending more troops to Iraq. Another poll from the time found that 63 percent of Americans opposed sending more troops to Iraq. Rather than confining American soldiers in Iraq indefinitely, Americans want a plan like Strategic Redeployment. Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta, along with Center for American Progress senior fellows Larry Korb, Scott Lilly, and Brian Katulis have suggested a number of principles and scenarios for a new way on Iraq that Congress should consider in the wake of Bush's veto.
MYTH # 2 -- EVERYTHING BAD IN IRAQ IS AL QAEDA: "At the end of the day...Iraq is not about a civil war. Iraq is about al Qaeda and 76 other terrorist groups operating there," said Boehner during his appearance on Fox News Sunday yesterday. "And all their effort is aimed at defeating the United States." "The Al-Qaeda terrorists who behead captives or order suicide bombings would not be satisfied to see America defeated and gone from Iraq," said Bush in his weekly radio address on Saturday. "They would be emboldened by their victory." Boehner and Bush are wrong when they imply that violence in Iraq is primarily the result of al Qaeda. In a survey of diplomatic and foreign policy experts last month, McClatchy reported that "foreign-born jihadists are present in Iraq, but they're believed to number only between 4 percent and 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgent fighters." The National Intelligence Estimate released in February said that "the term 'civil war' accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements." According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, there are actually four wars going on in Iraq. "One is Shi'a on Shi'a...the second is sectarian conflict...third is the insurgency...and fourth is Al Qaeda."
MYTH #3 -- IRAQ IS COMMONPLACE: Speaking on the floor of the House last week, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) compared the war in Iraq to a Major League Baseball game. "Imagine my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are playing the much despised Chicago Cubs," began Shimkus as he analogized withdrawing from Iraq as the equivalent of his favorite baseball team walking off the field during extra innings. "Who wins? We know it's the team that stays on the field. Arbitrary deadlines and a date certain accept defeat before the conclusion of the contest." Shimkus isn't the only war supporter to use a bad analogy to bludgeon criticism of the war. During a trip to Iraq last month, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) told reporters that his heavily-guarded trip to a Baghdad market "was like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime." Yesterday, Boehner compared Iraq to the small plastics and packaging company he used to run in Ohio, in an effort to justify setting toothless benchmarks for the Iraqi government. "I owned a small business. I have benchmarks every month, but if I didn't meet the benchmarks and if I missed the profit margin, I didn't shut down the business." Shimkus, Pence, and Boehner are callous and wrong in their analogies. No one gets killed in a Cardinals v. Cubs game, Hoosiers don't need to wear flak jackets to visit the local market, and 100 U.S. soldiers weren't killed every month if Boehner couldn't sell enough bubble wrap.