Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Why are Americans turning against the war?

Public opinion is “nearing a tipping point” on Iraq, said Robert Kuttner in The Boston Globe. Until Cindy Sheehan parked herself in protest outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, most Americans paid little attention to our faraway desert war. But Sheehan, the grieving mother of a dead soldier, has given the terrible cost of the Iraqi conflict a human face. Bush’s “inept response” to Sheehan only heightened the impression that his mission in Iraq is to avoid admitting it was all a mistake. If Bush won’t listen to Sheehan, said Michael Scherer in Salon.com, perhaps the majority of Americans will carry some weight. A new Gallup poll shows that 56 percent of Americans believe Bush “should withdraw either some or all of the troops stationed in Iraq.” And in a stunning repudiation of his rationale for the war, 57 percent believe the war has made America more vulnerable to terrorism. “‘Stay the course’ is not a policy,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) last weekend. “We’re not winning.”

It’s true—the public is souring on the war, said David Frum in National Review Online. The media’s negative coverage is partly responsible for that. But so is Bush’s failure to explain the enormous progress that’s been made, and to make a convincing case that it’s in America’s best interest to finish the job. In two speeches this week, Bush said we owe it to the dead to fight on, and that Iraqi democracy will make us more secure—nothing he hasn’t said “a hundred times before.” If he’s to rally America behind the war, Bush needs to go to Iraq himself, or come up with some dramatic new public relations campaign.

Critics of the war aren’t doing much better, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. With Bush flailing, “this should be the Democrats’ moment.” But Democratic leaders are allowing “the most shrill voices in the party”—people like Ted Kennedy and, yes, Cindy Sheehan—to speak for them. There has to be more to the Democrats’ Iraq policy than a sour defeatism, and a “visceral dislike” of Bush. Don’t count on it, said Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray, also in the Post. Democrats are deeply divided on Iraq. Some leaders, still echoing the simplistic anti-war sentiments of the Vietnam era, are clamoring for an immediate pullout. Others, such as Sens. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, are critical of the administration’s execution of the war, but favor staying. Still others, like party chairman Howard Dean, prefer to let Bush twist in the wind. A few weeks ago, Senate Democrats held a meeting “to develop a cohesive stance on the war and debated every option—only to break up with no consensus.”

So, that leaves the onus on the president, said Joe Klein in Time. In order to win back popular support, though, Bush must first acknowledge the “unutterable agony this war has caused” in a convincing and heartfelt way. But he will not, or cannot. Bush sees attending funerals of the fallen, or confronting their families’ pain, as a sign of weakness or an admission of error. In actuality, it’s his blithe insistence on putting a happy face on Iraq that’s really feeding the cynicism and doubt. Americans won’t follow the commander in chief’s lead when he spends August kicking back at his ranch, dodging Sheehan and other critics, and delivering boilerplate bromides devoid of emotion. “This is a failure of leadership, perhaps the signal failure of the Bush presidency.”
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