(HOST) During wartime, slogans can play a significant role in maintaining support on the home-front. But as commentator Barrie Dunsmore tells us this morning, for the war in Iraq, the time for slogans is probably over.
(DUNSMORE) Slogans, analogies, even the occasional cliche – can be powerful tools in shaping public opinion. And the Bush administration has been particularly adept in their use. President George W. Bush has repeatedly pledged that no matter how tough things got in Iraq he would quote “stay the course.” It seemed an appropriate metaphor because it suggested that – whatever changes in the winds (meaning public opinion) or heavy seas (meaning military casualties) – he would keep the American ship-of-state on its course to bring peace and democracy to Iraq.
The companion to the “stay the course” slogan was that the Democrats were “cut and run” and more recently that they favored “waving the white flag of surrender.”
These don’t need much explaining.
However, to use an old cliche, there is nothing like the hangman’s noose to concentrate the mind. And for a political party, that noose is potential electoral defeat. The painting of Democrats as weak on defense and feckless on terror – the White House policy so successful in the past two elections – is no longer working. All the most recent polls indicate broad public disenchantment with the president’s conduct of the Iraq War – and that points to a Republican loss of either one or both Houses of Congress in the November 7th elections.
And so we hear this week that Mr. Bush has abandoned his “stay the course” slogan. In the words of his spokesman Tony Snow, “He’s stopped using it. It left the wrong impression.”
To try to create the right impression, the president has been holding highly publicized meetings with his top military advisors to examine current policy not, we are told by Mr. Snow, to do anything drastic – but to consider possible changes in tactics, as opposed to strategy. Many people do know the difference although probably many more don’t. But in this case – if you’ll forgive another oldie – it all has the look of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Slogans do work in terms of ginning up public support for a policy. But in the long run they cannot be a substitute for policy. It is not enough to declare “Mission Accomplished.” Sooner or later, you have to actually accomplish the mission.
I do not wish to make light of the current dilemma now being faced by policy makers of both parties. A great deal is at stake for America, the Middle East and the world. Should the U.S. start pulling out by the end of this year? Should it announce a timetable for a phased withdrawal, thereby forcing the Iraqis themselves to take more responsibility? Or should the U.S. presence actually be beefed up, taxes raised and a military draft re-instituted? Those are some of the agonizing choices.
There is one analogy I heard recently regarding the war in Iraq, which, unfortunately, may sum it all up: once you’ve driven your car over a cliff — there are no good options.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.