Sunday, September 09, 2007

Beyond the Politics of Equivocation


“To go before or with … to show the way.”

That is the first definition of the verb “to lead” in my online dictionary, Not surprisingly, the dictionary also says that leaders are those who lead.

Too bad, on the war on Iraq, that I can’t find a single sustained, vocal leader in the top ranks of the Democratic Party.

Tomorrow, Army Gen. David Petraeus will tell the world that the “surge” in Iraq is working. I haven’t been privy to an advance copy of his speech. I don’t need one. For weeks now, President Bush and his spin machine have been playing Petraeus and his generals as if they're marionettes.

Patraeus’ words will hold no surprises. He’ll tell us, in so many words, that, “We’re kicking ass.” It’s the new story line: Because we’re tough and have stayed the course, things in Iraq are getting better. Not that the American people are really fooled. They want facts.

So what have our Democratic leaders in Congress and the presidential nomination race done? For the most part, they've cleared their throats and shuffled.

I don’t understand why just one of them can’t tell the truth – can't say that even if we’ve brought some slight stability to parts of Iraq, we don’t have a chance in hell of sustaining it, of reversing the war’s course. That American soldiers will continue to bleed there, year after year after year, unless someone draws a line now. That our soldiers, as one officer of the Shiite Mahdi Army told The New York Times, are captives in the very country that we tore up and are now trying to mend.

Why can’t a leading Democratic candidate quote the words of Lt. Col. Steve M. Miska, deputy commander of a U.S. brigade trying to control northwest Baghdad? He told The Times, “We’ve essentially stalled the sectarian conflict without addressing the underlying grievances.”

Why can't a leading Democratic candidate stand up and ask, “How many American boys and girls still must die to bolster George W. Bush in his ever-changing lie?”

Or perhaps they have, only for their words to be swallowed in a stew of position briefs. That's not enough.

This is a call for courage -- for a Democratic candidate or party leader to get – and stay -- angry and on message. To speak out unequivocally and repeatedly. To risk the right’s counter-attack. To say, again and again, that we’ve fumbled the real war, the one against Osama Bin Laden, by exhausting our troops and our nation’s psyche in Iraq, spilling blood and endless billions on the scorched Earth of a country that never was much more than a colonial construct anyway. To demand that we get out -- and not five years from now.

This, in other words, is a call for leader.

The American people are waiting.

It won’t be Hillary. She’s got too comfortable a margin in early polls and too big a commitment to winning. She’s too deeply enmeshed in the vote that took us to Iraq in the first place. She’s plenty smart, but can be counted on the be plenty safe while the Bush boys spin their latest fantasy, their latest story line to a press corps that, with some notable exceptions, seems perfectly willing to pass it on with little skepticism – at least until some courageous Democrat steps up and demands more than half-baked compromise, at least until the American people get mad as well as weary, turn out in the streets instead of merely turning off the news.

But how about you Barack Obama, you who boasts of being the one wise enough to oppose the war in the first place? How about you John Edwards, you who was wise enough to apologize, early, for voting to send the troops? I know, I know.. Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, even Republican Ron Paul have said without a lot of wiggling that it’s time to bring the troops home. They’ve tried their best.

But their calls, at the back of the pack, are not enough. Someone who can command attention needs to speak out. Someone, in debates and on the Senate floor, has to get angry and stay that way, day after day. To steep themselves in the hard-gathered facts that the elite media have provided – in books, in articles, in television documentaries. And then to simplify, to use those facts as if they were propaganda, in slogans and slick phrases, because that is how the Bush Administration has convinced sizable chunks of America that it actually was Saddam Hussein who bombed the World Trade Center and that, given the chance, he’d have dropped the Big One, too.

It’s clear that an elegant lie, simply and repeatedly told, can fool huge swaths of the people much of the time. That’s the lesson of this world of 24-7 news. Unless, at least, there is a counterforce. Unless someone pushes back with an equally elegant truth, repeated just as simply and just as often.

But that takes guts. It takes someone willing to risk losing – the presidential nomination, control of the Senate or House, the battle for public opinion – in order to risk winning. It takes a leader.

Only that person would not lose. The American people are fed up. They are hungry for someone to speak truth to power and for someone in power to speak the truth. They want a leader.

That’s what The Boston Globe heard when it sent its reporters across America to hear the public’s views on the war.

:Lsten to Stu Michael, a Republican from Wheaton, Ill., who still supports the surge.: “It’s the old adage of trying to close the barn door after all the animals are out … Does anybody have an answer?”

Or to 23-year-old Chris Dolezilek, who, in Holton, Kan., seemed “eager for real information.”

“I want to make my own decisions,” he told The Globe. “But I can’t get any information because there’s so much false information out there.”

Are you listening Democrats?

Barack Obama. John Edwards. Anyone. Stand up. Speak up. Lead us from the stinking graveyard of Iraq War spin.


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