The emergence of a "Third Way" in American politics
In an excellent article in The American Thinker, Herb Meyer lays out an emerging "Third Way" in American politics. I think this "Third Way" is not only related to criticism and doubts about how the war in Iraq is being handled, but extends to many other areas of adminstration policy, from borders and energy to taxation and the environment. You don't have to be a Democrat or a Bush hater to see that there are many things that do not seem to be going well in this second Bush term. It doesn't serve a leader well to isolate himself in the bunker of the White House and to surround himself with yes men.
As usual, Herb Meyer manages to analyze the situation clearly and succinctly without taking sides, which makes it easier to get beyond the many emotional issues that cloud this war and make it difficult to see the real problems facing us. Because of the relentless Bush-bashing we are naturally defensive of everything the President does, but we can't let these emotional issues cloud our view of what may be going very wrong in Iraq and how best to correct course. A little honesty goes a long way towards correcting that problem.
Bush does appear to be more "dogged than persuasive" in his occasional speeches about the war, which always seem like he has been dragged to the microphone grudgingly in order to repeat the same phrases he has been using about the war from the very beginning. Endless repetition does not make something persuasive, it either suggests that the person is disinterested in making a good faith effort to convince, is stubborn in his own refusal to admit that there are wider problems, or assumes that the audience is so stupid it didn't hear the message the first time. Endless repetition does not convince, it merely bores. We tune it out.
I fear that Mr. Meyer is also correct that President Bush in addition to being unpersuasive, is also unpersuadable at this point. It's dangerous for a president to insulate himself from friendly, but opposing viewpoints.
Indeed, if the administration is not careful, and does not address this emerging "Third Way" of discontent, he is in danger of fracturing the Republican party. Already members from within the party are beginning to break with the administration on the issue of Iraq and many conservatives feel that the Bush administration is downright hostile to their concerns. In fact, there's an increasing number of people in this country who are completely unhappy with the performance of BOTH parties. Reasonable people who can disagree on policies and various issues, but who nonetheless see little of what represents their views expressed in the pronouncements and policies of either party. In short, we are going to see the emergence of a third-party candidate who may or may not be what this country needs.
From the moment President Bush set his war policy after the 9-11 attacks, our country has been divided into two factions. The first faction supports the President because it believes he’s doing the right thing, while the second faction opposes the President because it believes he’s doing the wrong thing. Now a third faction has emerged, comprised of those who believe the President is doing the right thing – but that he isn’t doing it very well.
Generally, those who belong to this third faction argue that the war is going badly because we aren’t fighting hard enough, or smart enough. They note that the terrorists in Iraq appear to be growing stronger, rather than weakening. For example, the number of casualties remains too high among both our soldiers and Iraqis, and more than two years after our troops knocked out Saddam Hussein’s regime the highway to Baghdad International Airport remains the world’s most deadly road. Most of those who belong to this third faction believe that we should have sent more troops into Iraq from the start, that we must now stabilize Iraq before withdrawing, and that we won’t be able to stabilize Iraq without more American boots on the ground – and also without taking whatever military action may be necessary to stop Syria and Iran from funding and fueling the insurgency in Iraq.
You can find an opinion poll to support whatever outcome you want, but it’s obvious that since the President’s 2004 reelection victory the second faction has grown. Indeed, a key argument of those who belong to the new third faction is that anti-war sentiment among Americans has grown precisely because the President isn’t fighting the war as well as he should. And with the emergence of this third faction, opposition to the President’s policy is now coming from the right, as well as from the left.
This essay isn’t intended to take sides, or to make a case for one of the three factions. My purpose here is merely to describe this three-way split, and to illuminate the President’s response to it. Simply put, he is failing to convince those who believe he’s doing the wrong thing, that he’s right. And he has declined even to acknowledge the existence of the third faction.
In speech after speech, the President asserts that his policy is working. He cites whatever evidence he can that it is – such as the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the latter country’s movement toward a new constitution – and ignores whatever evidence there may be that his policy is going awry. Those who oppose the President’s policy are either “wrong” or just “impatient.” He rarely makes a new point, but rather seems content to make the same points over and over again. As a result he appears more dogged than persuasive. Those who speak for the President – the number of well-coiffed and button-down “communications directors” in this Administration is astounding – echo the commander-in-chief and seem interested only in connecting with the President’s political base, and oblivious to its erosion.
One of the first rules of management – and war – is that no plan survives its collision with reality. Great leaders often are those who recognize a need to change course to reach their original objective. On the other hand, history is sometimes made by men who stick with their plan long after everyone else has jumped ship -- and win. And a very different kind of history is sometimes made by men who stick with their plan long after it becomes obvious to everyone else that things are going awry – and lose.
I said earlier that the President is unpersuasive. He also may be unpersuadeable. All administrations over time tune out their political opponents. This administration tunes out even its political friends – those who support what the President is doing but believe that events on the ground require a course-correction. Rather than fight against the isolation that always envelops a President, the current White House staff has turned that building into a hermetically-sealed box. Presumably, this is how the President wants it; if he didn’t, he’d change it.
So far, there isn’t the slightest indication that the President will change his strategy for fighting the war. People are policy, and he hasn’t made one major personnel change since 9-11 that suggests any Presidential dissatisfaction with the way the war is going, or any inclination to change course. Unless you see key changes in personnel – at the Pentagon, among the generals, at the State Department – it’s safe to assume that the President will stick with his current strategy. If the war ends well, history will remember George Bush along with FDR and Ronald Reagan. If the war ends badly, history will remember him along with LBJ and Richard Nixon.