Tale of Two Wars

Joel Bleifuss

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The White House has hit on an ingenious way to win the war in Iraq. It is all laid out in a White House policy paper, National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”

The strategy was conceived and written not by the nation’s top military strategists but rather by Peter Feaver, an associate professor at Duke University whose field is public opinion and polling. Feaver, hired by the National Security Council earlier this year, is a co-author of Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq,” a study that found, When the public believes the mission will succeed, the public is willing to continue supporting the mission, even as costs mount. When the public thinks victory is not likely, even small costs will be highly corrosive.”

In essence, the way to win the war is to declare victory” as imminent. And that is what President George W. Bush has been doing as he tours the country promoting the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” 

Consider this excerpt of Bush’s speech on December 14 at the Wilson Center in Washington:

I’ve come to discuss an issue of vital importance to the American people, and that is: Victory in the war on terror. … [W]e cannot – and will not – leave Iraq until victory is achieved. … We will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything less than complete victory. … we will not leave until victory has been achieved. … We will carry on the fight, we will complete their mission, and we will win. … victory will be achieved. 

The strategy for victory” is not aimed so much at the war in Iraq as the domestic war at home. That’s because Bush needs to win in Iraq – or at least manage public perceptions of that increasingly costly war – to consolidate his victory in Washington. 

On Capitol Hill, the Republican congressional leadership has been busily dividing the victor’s spoils: billions of dollars tax cuts to GOP patrons; rollbacks in regulations; and defunding of government programs.The GOP’s weapons of choice: a phalanx of K‑street lobbyists and rule changes to Congress.

Since 1998, according to the Center for Public Integrity, the lobbying industry has spent $13 billion trying to influence national legislation by deploying an army of lobbyists that has included more than 200 former members of Congress and 42 former directors of federal agencies. 

For many of these lobbyists, particularly those representing corporate interests, their job is made easier by changes in House rules that allow votes to be held open for hours. That gives the GOP leadership time to wheedle and bribe (through the addition of pork barrel budget lines) recalcitrant colleagues to get in step with the party line.

To combat this some progressive Democrats have put forth some specific proposals. Reps. David Obey (Wis.), Barney Frank (Mass.) David Price (N.C.) and Tom Allen (Maine) unveiled a package off 14 reforms that:

  • Prohibit all recorded votes in the House of Representative from lasting longer than 20 minutes without the consent of the leaders of both parties.
  • Make it an ethics offense for one member to make funding requested by another member dependent on how that member votes.
  • Make it an ethics offense for any member to advocate a specific funding line in the budget unless that member discloses whether he or she has a financial interest in the funded entity.
  • Mandate that the House only consider legislation that has been printed and made available to all members of the house for a 24 hour period.

Will these reforms ever see the light of day? Don’t count on it.

After all, we’re at war, and that is Bush’s ultimate victory: Perception management for a war the administration is losing afar to protect itself from defeat in the war they are winning at home.

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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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