Framing Iraq: Time to Stop Losing

Thanks to a tip from another blogger I had ammunition to use against my Congressman, Charles Bass of New Hampshire, in a letter that my local newspaper The Nashua Telegraph published Monday.

My letter uses a number of frames for Iraq that I want to popularize: (1) That it is time to stop losing in Iraq -- losing troops and losing borrowed money; (2) that Bush is thinking like a compulsive gambler -- throwing away more resources because he can't admit that he's already thrown away more than he can afford; and (3) the Republican Congress lacks the backbone to stand up to Bush.

Here's the text as it appeared in the paper and on the Telegraph web site:

Congress must push to bring troops home

Published: Monday, Jul. 10, 2006

I recently ran across a press release from Congressman Charles Bass. It said: "Absent some control by Congress, I am certain that this war will escalate to a point when costs and measures will grow out of control."

Of course, Bass' statement was from April of 1999 and he was talking about President Clinton and Kosovo, a war that concluded successfully with no American deaths in battle and a budget surplus. If only Congressman Bass would show the same backbone in standing up to President Bush on Iraq, a war whose costs in both blood and treasure truly have grown out of control.

On the Fourth of July, President Bush told soldiers at Fort Bragg that we have to keep fighting in Iraq so that the 2,500 troops already lost will not have died in vain. That's the logic of a compulsive gambler: We can't stop because we've lost too much already.

The only way to stop losing in Iraq - stop losing soldiers and stop losing money we don't have - is to bring our troops home. But President Bush can't admit he made a mistake, so Congress needs to find the backbone to tell him it's over. If our current Congress won't do it, we need to elect a different one.

Doug Muder, Nashua

The most provocative thing about this letter is that it reverses several popular frames. "Backbone" is something the anti-war movement has and the pro-war Congress lacks. The "compulsive gambler" frame makes Bush look weak rather than strong -- he can't face reality. This also raises his alcoholic past indirectly. Finally, it casts the conservatives rather than liberals as the ones who can't stop spending.

Unsurprisingly this letter provoked a long and angry response from another Telegraph reader. I just finished this answer, in which I invoke another frame: fantasy vs. reality. And once again I invoke courage as an anti-war virtue.

In his reply "US isn't losing war, it must stay the course" to my letter of Monday, July 10, Bruce Beane of Nashua repeats several of the administration's fantasies about Iraq. I'm sure everyone thinks democracy in Iraq would be lovely, but reality in Iraq is chaos, not democracy. When the chaos resolves, Iraq will probably have a new dictator or become an Islamic Republic like Iran. Is either result worth thousands of American troops dead and hundreds of billions of dollars borrowed and spent?

The idea that the Iraq War protects us from terrorism at home is another fantasy. How exactly does that work? It didn't protect London and Madrid. Perhaps Iraqi terrorists do find it more convenient to stay home and kill the Americans we send to them at great expense, but that hardly seems like a benefit of our policy.

In reality, the war increases the terrorist threat for decades to come. Each Iraqi civilian we kill gives a new set of brothers, sons, and cousins a reason to attack America. How many Iraqi children have seen their parents beaten or killed by Americans? How many will grow up to seek revenge?

Bruce Beane can yell "cut and run" all he likes, but we need to find the courage to put pleasant fantasies aside and face the harsh facts: The lives and money we have already lost in Iraq have been wasted. We can waste more, or we can stop. In the real world those are our only choices.

I recommend these tactics. If the anti-war position is painted as idealistic-but-unrealistic and the pro-war position is the one for hard-headed realists, we lose. If people with courage back the war and cowards want to cut and run, we lose. The anti-war message needs to be presented as the view of people with the courage to face reality, and the pro-war position painted as one of running away from the unpleasant truth. If that sticks, we win.

Doug Muder
14 July 2006
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