Thursday, August 12, 2004

Speech Coach

I'm probably not telling you anything you haven't realized on your own when I say that Juan Cole is providing the most insightful, honest, and straight forward coverage of the conflict in Iraq that can be found in the blogosphere, if not the media in general. There are two items that he posted recently that I wanted to highlight.

The first is a
suggested response that John Kerry should have given to the question posed by Bush asking Kerry "if he would still have voted for the Iraq War if he had known in fall of 2002 everything he knows now about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction."

Kerry's response was a typically nuanced "yes." He said that he would still have voted the same way, but that he would have handled things differently, giving the weapons inspectors more time to do their jobs and making a more determined effort to involve the international community so that the US did not have to lead an ambivalent coalition both in the military phase and, more importantly, in the reconstruction phase.

Bush immediately seized on the opening presented by Kerry and twisted it to suit his purposes stating publicly:

After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Senator Kerry now agrees with me that, even though we have not found the stockpile of weapons we all believe were there, knowing all believe were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power . . . I want to thank Senator Kerry for clearing that up.
The problem is that Kerry doesn't agree with Bush. It is dishonest to suggest that the same outcome would have proceeded from giving the inspectors more time or involving our allies in the process. More importantly though, this allows Bush to gloss over the most significant distinction that Kerry presented: how the war and the subsequent reconstruction were conducted. Unfortunately for Kerry, the press probably won't probe any farther than the apparent concurrence, shying away from delving into the substance of the differences. Thus, Bush succeeded in crafting the debate and steering the press coverage in a way most favorable to himself.

In this regard, Kerry's decision to respond to Bush's question without reframing the terms was a politically daft move. Even Kerry's national security advisor Rand Beers seems to have a better retort for Bush: "Knowing what you know now, do you still believe that you made no mistakes in how you took this country to war?"

As for Cole, he offers his suggestion for how Kerry could have avoided the trap of answering the question on Bush's terms which gave him and Rove the sound bite they craved:

Mr. President, the question of whether we should have gone to war is water under the bridge. We are in Iraq now, and are on the way to spending $500 billion on it at a time when many of our own people don't have insurance or cannot afford the drugs they need, or cannot build a needed new school. You have posed a counterfactual question, an imaginary question. There is no way to answer a question about an imaginary situation. Why don't you keep your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds, and look what is happening to our troops in Iraq? What I can tell you is that the way you fought the war in Iraq has made Americans less safe, not more safe. You have diverted resources from fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the Pakistani border regions to bombarding Muslim holy sites in Iraq. You have allowed the poppy trade to come back, to the tune of over $2 billion a year, in Afghanistan, creating a powerful threat of narco-terrorism. Do we really want the remanants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to get hold of that kind of drug money? You have thrown Iraq into political and military chaos, creating an unstable situation that could well breed terrorism against the United States. Your supporters are fond of calling you the "commander in chief" even with reference to your civilian role. But you are the commander in chief of the US armed forces, and you have not served them well by sending in a force too small to provide security to post-war Iraq.
While Mr. Cole is feeling magnanimous, he also offers some advice on issues Kerry should focus on in response to Bush's recent criticisms of Kerry's stated desire to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops within 6 months of his election if the conditions on the ground, and the hoped for reinforcements from allies, allowed for such a scaleback. Bush's critique went as follows: "What we don't want is to cut short the mission. We don't want politics to decide the mission."

Cole's suggested line of inquiry for Kerry:

How long does Mr. Bush plan on keeping 138,000 US troops in Iraq? What is this project going to cost the American taxpayer? What does Mr. Bush plan to do if the situation remains so unstable that elections are not feasible in January? What are Mr. Bush's real plans for Iraq, such that his "mission" there cannot be completed within one year? What exactly is the mission? Because if it is forcing Western democracy on Iraq and then holding up Iraq as a model to other Middle Easterners, that is not working out very well. Iraq under the Bush administration is the worst advertisement for democracy in the history of the world. [emphasis added]
Ahem...tap tap this thing on...Mr. Kerry, Mr. Shrum, is anyone listening?

[Update: Eric Alterman weighs in with his own suggestions for Kerry to un-muddle his position:

Anyway, you want a clear consistent position. Here’s one:

1. President Bush misled the country and the Congress into war and has conducted it incompetently.
2. The war also turns out to have been a dangerous diversion in the war against terrorism.
2. Even though we were misled, and even though we would be better off working with our (former?) allies to conduct a truly effective global war against terrorism, in Afghanistan and at home, we have no choice but to try to clean up this mess we’ve created.
4. But we should try and do so as quickly, inexpensively and painlessly as possible, so we can begin to repair some of the damage that’s been done to our nation’s reputation and get on with the business of defending the nation with the help and cooperation of our allies, as well as freeing up the resources we need to protect our homeland.

What’s so hard about that?]

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