I’ll throw in my two cents on Bush friend Pete Domenici’s statement on Iraq this week. My organization doesn’t work on Iraq, but my colleagues and I spend a great deal of time thinking about how we use language and how it affects the public debate.
I’ve often argued on this blog that rhetoric matters, that roll call votes shouldn’t be the exclusive measure of an elected official. Floor speeches, press releases, and other statements do shift the policy debate and ultimately do make a difference in people’s lives.
Senator Domenici’s rhetorical shift on Iraq, therefore, will have some positive impact. It will intensify pressure for a course change and it’s miles better than the message he’s used for much of the past five years (with or against, stay the course vs. cut and run). Still, it leaves much to be desired.
Domenici is one of many Members of Congress and presidential candidates – Republican and Democratic alike – to put the blame exclusively on the Iraqi government. The headline of Domenici’s press release reads: “Domenici, Pushed by Iraqi Government Failures, Supports New U.S. Military Strategy.”
That, my friends, is called nerve. The Bush/Cheney strategy that Congress supported from the outset called for toppling a regime, dismantling its bureaucracy. Moreover, the strategy assumes that a newly-created democratic government should be able to quickly and neatly compromise on some extremely divisive issues. Meanwhile, the 219-year-old government in which Domenici and his colleagues serve is failing to resolve questions on health care, social security, immigration, and other issues, all of which are contentious, but none of which are near as divisive or foundational as those with which the nascent Iraqi government is currently grappling.
Governing and compromising aren’t easy, and no one who serves in government can plead ignorance to that fact. Let me state the obvious: the real problem is a strategy that was doomed at the outset. Any Member of Congress who cites the Iraqi government’s lack of progress as reason to change course is guilty of some some serious hypocrisy.
Some Republicans, by the way, are getting it right. Dick Lugar says: “military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world.” And Chuck Hagel has vocally argued that diplomacy, not military action, is the tool that can best solve problems in the Middle East. Through their rhetoric, Hagel and Lugar give people the impression that by smartly applying influence, we can work with other countries to serve common interests. Domenici’s language gives us the opposite cues.
The Iraqi government hasn’t made great progress, but I’m sick of hearing American politicians use it as a scapegoat for their own bad judgment.
— Scott Paul