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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Here Comes the Republican “Stab in the Back” Campaign – How the Democrats Should Respond:

In the last few days editorials in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post have started laying the foundations for a new two-pronged propaganda campaign – one that will serve to support McCain’s candidacy during the campaign season and then seamlessly convert into a “the perfidious Democrats stabbed our troops in the back” campaign in the event Obama wins the election and troops begin to be withdrawn.
The key to this new campaign is the assertion that the Sunni and Sadrist “insurgents” in Iraq are actually now on the very verge of collapse – shattered, demoralized and reeling from recent setbacks in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul. It is therefore only if the weak-kneed Democrats start withdrawing troops that the insurgents can possibly win.
Now anyone who has carefully read the articles about events in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul in the New York Times, Washington Post and major wire services is well aware of three facts:
1. The insurgent pullbacks in all three of these cities were carefully negotiated withdrawals with the entering government troops obeying mutually agreed-upon conditions (in Sadr City, for example, one element of the agreement was that US troops would not be part of the entering forces) In Mosul, the Times reported that “the Iraqi military appears to have allowed many insurgents to slip out after scores of negotiations with militias and their leaders.”
2. While preceded by periods of serious combat, the actual withdrawals or negotiated surrender/amnesties did not involve significant casualties for the insurgents or the unplanned abandonment of weapons, ammunition, supplies or materials.
3. The press reports gave no indication that the withdrawals were accompanied by any widespread demoralization, panic or breakdown of discipline among the insurgent forces.
(This last item may seem surprising to Americans because our military culture almost automatically identifies retreat or withdrawal with humiliation and failure while heroism is identified with standing fast (e.g. “not one step backward,” “fight to the last man” etc.). Arab-Persian martial culture is different, however, with withdrawal often envisioned as a specific kind of military operation that includes feigned retreats and false surrenders. The most famous historical example of this style of battle was the Parthian archers who would feign retreat and then decimate the pursuing cavalry by twisting around and firing arrows while their horses still raced ahead. Similar tactics of feigned retreat and false surrender were also a significant element in the reputation Arab and Persian generals gained during the Middle Ages of being uniquely “cunning” and “devious” compared to their more “upright” and “chivalrous” European opponents)
In short, while the insurgents’ loss of their bases in the three cities represented a significant setback, there is absolutely no reason to take seriously the idea that the events in Basra, Sadr City or Mosul have pushed them to the literal verge of collapse.
Now let us look at the exact words the Wall Street Journal and New York Post editorials used to characterize the events:
The New York Post, “Eat Crow, Iraq War Skeptics,” June 9, 2008
The Iraqi army “forcefully reoccupied” the three cities.
The Iraqi army “compelled insurgent militias to lay down their arms.”
The Wall Street Journal, “Iraq and the Election,” June 6, 2008
The Iraqi army “routed insurgents in three of their most important urban strongholds.”
Basra was “liberated from Sadrist goon squads.”
The Sadr City truce “had all the hallmarks of de-facto surrender.”
In Mosul, “the remaining terrorists were forced to scatter to the countryside or flee for Syria”
All these phrases – “forcefully reoccupied,” “routed,” “forced to lay down their arms,” “surrender,” “scatter,” and “flee” are extremely misleading as descriptions of what actually occurred during the negotiated withdrawals from the three cities and give ordinary Americans an utterly false visual image – an image of broken, panic-stricken and demoralized insurgents dropping their weapons and fleeing in terror.
This exaggerated image is of course vital for the Stab in the Back narrative to seem plausible. The enemy has to be on its “last legs” and “certain to fall if we can just stay firm a tiny little bit longer.” If, on the other hand, the Sadrists and Sunni insurgents are more accurately described as “playing possum,” “keeping their power dry,” “biding their time,” or “waiting for the right moment,” then the events of this spring appear more like a positive but not decisive trend in a long war of attrition with no end necessarily in sight. In this case, the Stab in the Back narrative falls apart.
What should the Dems do?
First, they should directly challenge the distorted view of events which underlies the “stab in the back” narrative whenever it is presented so that it does not become unconsciously accepted on the basis that “I’ve heard it so often that I guess it must be true.” Independent media watchdog groups as well as specifically Democratic sources should consistently quote articles from the major papers and wire services showing that the picture of “insurgents on the verge of total and complete collapse” is simply not supported by the facts to date.
Second, when the Republicans do roll out the “stab in the back” argument – as they inevitably will – the Democrats answer should be categorical.
Neither the Sadrist nor Sunni insurgencies were decisively shattered or broken by the events in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul and it is a genuinely shameful betrayal of the incredible sacrifice of our brave and dedicated men and women in uniform – and their families back home — for writers and commentators – for whatever partisan political motive — to deliberately sugarcoat that reality and distort the facts about how difficult the real conditions are that our soldiers are facing in Iraq and what it will actually take to pacify the county . Our men and women in uniform deserve better.
Before writers and commentators make vile assertions about Democrats stabbing our troops – our brave and dedicated troops and their families — in the back on the basis of misleading characterizations of the actual military situation in Iraq, they should look at themselves in the mirror.
And they should be ashamed.
James Vega is a strategic marketing consultant whose clients include leading nonprofit institutions and high-tech firms.

One comment on “Here Comes the Republican “Stab in the Back” Campaign – How the Democrats Should Respond:

  1. Joe Corso on

    Charles Krauthhammer’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post follows essentially the same strategy – He uses ambiguous phrases to describe the Iraqi army’s actions in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul — they “drive out”, “confront and prevail” or “enter and occupy” insurgent strongholds.
    The result is to artfully suggest that the insurgents were physically driven out of these cities during actual pitched battles rather then withdrawing as a result of negotiated agreements.
    Its going to be a long summer.


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