President Bush and his followers have now launched a full-scale defense of his policy in Iraq and a full-on assault on his detractors. And yet their weapon of choice is spin, not strategy. Listening to the president speak about Iraq this week, one had the feeling that he must be living in a parallel universe. Is he unwilling to level with the American people about the cold reality that is Iraq today? Or is he unaware of the minefield he has walked the country into?
The truth hurts. More than 60 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since President Bush went on vacation. Iraq’s interim government has twice missed the deadline for presenting a constitution. The current draft of the constitution not only threatens to create an illiberal Shia theocracy that doesn’t respect the rights of women and religious minorities, but also risks intensifying the current undeclared sectarian civil war. And the president’s approval rating has dropped to an all-time low of 36 percent – lower than Richard Nixon’s approval rating at the height of Watergate. Cindy Sheehan is not the only American who thinks that things aren’t going so well in Iraq.
The White House’s solution to its problems? Sending the president to the friendly environs of Utah and Idaho and putting its spinmeister Dan Bartlett on television to simply insist that “we have the right strategy to prevail.”
As a former White House chief of staff, I can say that the most important duty of a senior advisor is not to say “yes, sir,” but to honestly present the facts and the options available to the country. If the president’s advisors can’t confront the truth or don’t have the courage to tell the president the truth, they shouldn’t have taken the job in the first place.
Instead of spending time plotting motorcade routes to avoid Cindy Sheehan protests, the president’s advisors should be spending their time laying out the situation on the ground and the impact the war is having on terrorist networks, regional stability, sectarian conflict within Iraq, our overstretched ground forces, and U.S. security.
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