No excuses

Posted: Jun 16, 2006 2:45 PM
Earlier this week, in a speech in New Hampshire, Karl Rove said that Republicans should not be making excuses for removing Saddam Hussein from power.

“We were right to remove Saddam Hussein from power. This man was a threat. He was a threat to the region. He was a threat to America. He was a threat to the United States’ interests in the region and to the peace of the world. We were absolutely right with our coalition partners to remove him from power. We have no excuses to make for it.”

The statement above followed a long litany by Rove of the atrocities of Saddam, as well as the various reports we had of Saddam’s interest in acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction.

Pat Hynes, who videotaped the Rove speech in New Hampshire, has long argued that Republicans should “bring shame upon those Democrats in Washington who say we should have left Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq.” Hynes says, “It is my considered opinion that if Saddam Hussein is made to be the virtual running mate of every Democrat running for high public office in 2006, the tide of public opinion on Iraq will turn and Republicans will actually gain seats in Washington this election year.”

I have argued similarly that in addition to strongly defending Republicans for supporting the President in removing Saddam, the President and Republicans should be making the point that Dick Cheney made in July 2003 speech, that Democrats failed to act. Cheney said that knowing what we knew then, prior to invading Iraq, and looking at it in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks, it would have been irresponsible NOT to take action to remove Saddam Hussein.

In that speech Cheney said, “When the decision fell to him, President Bush was not willing to place the future of our security, and the lives of our citizens, at the mercy of Saddam Hussein. And so the President acted.” That is a powerful message that should be presented to the public this election season. Voters should be reminded that not only did many Democrats who were faced with the same information, fail to act, but many of those who supported the president’s decision to act, later withdrew that support when public opinion polls shifted.

So, I am in agreement with all of the above that Republicans should offer no excuses for the decision to remove Saddam Hussein, and agree that the issue should be raised in congressional elections this year. I am under no illusions, however, that the task will be easy. After all, the administration has not done the best job in the world on the Iraq War public relations front over the past three years.

To be fair, it has been a difficult job to tout the “good news” in Iraq without being accused of trying to sugarcoat or ignore the bad news from the region. The President has even, on occasion, been accused of denying the realities of the situation on the ground in Iraq. Supporters of the action in Iraq have been faced with a media that has, at times, seemed all consumed by a defeatist attitude and an agenda to report within an “all is lost” framework.

In addition to the challenge of a media not particularly interested in reporting the progress being made by our troops in Iraq, is the lack of proper education when it comes to military history. Betsy Newmark wrote of her experience as a teacher noticing the emphasis in the public education curriculum on social history rather than the military history of wars. Jay Mathews wrote of the teaching of WWII history in the public schools, that there are lessons on women stepping into men’s roles and lessons on the Japanese internment, but few on generals or specific battles. As Joanne Jacobs put it, “Rosie the Riveter has trumped Patton.”

Without an understanding of battles and victories, war casualties can be viewed out of the context of the overall progress made in a war. Frustrated by media coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Zell Miller wrote about how Iwo Jima might have been covered had it occurred in modern times. His work of satire showed how the combination of the way the media reports wars today, with the lack of understanding of the concept of fighting individual battles to make progress in a bigger war, can lead to the impression much of the American public has had of the war in Iraq.

As a result of the first Gulf War, which was fought from the air with few casualties, the public developed an almost impossible standard by which to compare future conflicts. Combine that with a media failing to report “good news” from Iraq and the way a couple of generations of Americans have been educated, and it becomes clear what a task it is to explain the war in Iraq.

What needs to be conveyed to the public prior to the fall elections, however, is not so much how the war has been going, but that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power. As Iraq continues to form a democratic government, hopefully while experiencing a decrease in violence and more stable security in the country, and as more of Saddam’s atrocities continue to come to light, that task might just get a little easier.