The day after tens of thousands of protestors gathered at the Capitol to protest the escalation of the war in Iraq, the Sunday shows—the bellwethers of beltway conventional wisdom—demonstrated once again just how distant the Washington political establishment insists on being from the “wisdom” of its citizens.
You don’t have to rely on the protestors themselves to know that they, rather than their opposition, represent mainstream opinion in America today. In the days before the protest, a Newsweek poll found that 64 percent of Americans believed that Congress was not being assertive enough in challenging the president’s conduct in Iraq. A recent CNN poll found that 63 percent of Americans oppose the president’s escalation, and perhaps most importantly, 61 percent supported Congress using financial legislation to block the administration’s attempts to send more troops to Iraq.
Yet once again—just as took place during Nixon’s presidency with the Vietnam War—the very arena where such concerns ought to be given the widest possible voice is instead giving us the same old pabulum. The Sunday news shows, instead of responding to American’s concerns, featured pundits who continue to see Congressional oversight as unpatriotic peddling pro-escalation memes.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose position on the war represents the tiniest of minorities, made his regular Sunday appearance—this time on “Fox News Sunday,” expressing worry that “[Resolutions against escalation] will do two things that can be harmful, which is that it will discourage our troops, who we’re asking to carry out this new plan, and it will encourage the enemy, because as General Petraeus said to our committee, war is a test of wills, and you don’t want your enemy to be given any hope.”
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, now in the running for the Republican presidential nomination, made similar remarks on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying, “I think that’s a dangerous position to take, to oppose a sitting commander in chief while we’ve got people being shot at on the ground. I think it’s one thing to have a debate and a discussion about this strategy, but to openly oppose, in essence, the strategy, I think that can be a very risky thing for our troops.”
Alas, a recent Military Times poll revealed that “barely one-third of service members approve of the way the president is handling the war, and even some Republicans don’t agree that opposing the war will give aid to the enemy. “I don’t see this enemy as needing any more emboldening or getting it from any resolution. They’re emboldened now,” conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), who opposes Bush’s escalation, told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
The frequently repeated pro-escalation talking point that opponents of the “surge” don’t have a plan of their own also bounced around the Sunday circuit. “Part of that full debate we’re not getting, in my opinion, is a clear discussion of the alternatives,” Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) said on “Meet the Press.” “The resolution that my colleague Chuck Hagel was talking about is not a plan. It is not an alternative. It is a vote against the president’s plan, which is his right, but it is not an alternative plan. And I think, to have a responsible debate, we need to compare plans side by side because there is no easy answer.”
This is nonsense. The administration plan is not even a plan; it’s a cobbled-together political machination designed to allow Bush to refuse to face up to the failure of his policies before leaving office in 2009. Reality is not even recognized as a factor in this administration. When Vice-President Dick Cheney appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s program last week, he responded to the sheepish Wolf’s observation of a “terrible situation” in Iraq with a simple denial of reality: “No, there is not. There is not.”
Meanwhile, alternatives can be found on the websites of the Center for American Progress, in the pages of The Boston Review, and in proposals from the likes of John Murtha, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Ted Kennedy, Peter Galbraith, and Joe Biden and Les Gelb.
Some conservative pundits continue to cling to the notion that all we need to do to “win” in Iraq, is decide to do it. Fred Barnes argues in The Weekly Standard that we shouldn’t suffer “self-inflicted defeat” in Iraq, as Barnes seems to think took place in Vietnam. Rick Perlstein, writing in The New Republic prebutted this argument and disposed of this myth, explaining that we lost in Vietnam for the same reasons we’re losing in Iraq: because of a failure to recognize the political problems on the ground.
Conservatives have been making these same arguments—dissent helps the enemy and hurts the troops; those against the war don’t have a plan to fix it; we shouldn’t choose defeat when victory is around the corner—since the earliest days of the war. But judging by the opinions of Americans, and the results of the 2006 elections, people aren’t buying it.
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His popular blog, “Altercation,” has moved from MSNBC.com to Media Matters. The new URL is http://mediamatters.org/altercation/. Tim Fernholz is a writer in Washington, D.C.