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Winning the Spin Battle

By Ivan Eland
October 31, 2006

Editor's Note: On the political trail one week before pivotal congressional elections, George W. Bush is looking for a winning formulation for Republicans. Having jettisoned "stay the course" in Iraq, Bush is redefining his message by arguing that a Democratic victory means "the terrorists win and America loses."

In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland suggests that Americans who see the Iraq War as a disaster for the nation should get into this game of clever catch phrases:

President Bush and Karl Rove realize they are losing the pre-election public relations battle with the Democrats over the war in Iraq.

Rove, the President’s political ace, didn’t think the American people could intellectually process more than three words. So he cleverly tried to define the President’s position on the war as “stay the course” and paint the Democrats as advocating a policy of “cut and run.”

Unfortunately, Iraqis don’t follow Washington’s rules of spin. In fact, lately they haven’t been following many rules at all. The recent escalation of violence in Iraq and an upsurge in U.S. military deaths has made the “stay the course” mantra appear out of touch with reality.

The Democrats were scoring more points against the Republicans by attacking this empty slogan than the Republicans were by using the equally vacuous phrase “cut and run” against the Democrats.

To the President, this dangerous pre-election problem meant that it was time for change—not in Iraq policy (at least not before the election), but a change in how to spin the war.

But the President and Mr. Rove are at a loss for another easy three-word phrase to describe their alleged flexibility. The President said that he would not use “stay the course” anymore because people were misperceiving this phrase to mean that U.S. policy in Iraq was stagnant in the face of intensified violence and mayhem.

He argued that the administration is always changing its tactics in the face of morphing threats in Iraq. However, I have news for the President, which Mr. Rove would probably corroborate: The three-word slogan “adjusting our tactics” is a political loser.

Democrats, anti-war libertarians, and others making up the two-thirds of Americans who disapprove of the war should leap into this phraseology vacuum. We should label President Bush’s Iraq policy or its effects before he and Mr. Rove dream up another demagogic phrase to attempt to hide the policy’s failure.

If we’re really ambitious, we could even come up with our own slogan for a viable solution (if there are any left at this late date). Here are some that have bubbled to the surface:

“Lying into War”
“Adventure in Anbar”
“Concealing the Quagmire”
“Bloodbath in Balad”
“Death Squad Derby”
“Rampage through Ramadi”
“Mess in Mesopotamia”
“Help for Halliburton”
“Desperately Seeking Stability”
“Irate in Iraq”
“Wrong-Way Rumsfeld”
“Saving Private Rights”
“Cheney’s Chairborne Chauvinism”
“Mission (Utterly) Impossible”
“Freedom at Gunpoint”
“A+ for Aggression”
“T for Torture”
“Fist for Fallujah”
“Fools Rush In”
“Mission Accomplished—NOT!”
“Flowers for al-Gernon”
“War and Pieces”
“It’s Strategery Stupid”
“Texas-style FUBAR”
“Sleepless in Samarra”
“Bush’s Bungling Butchery”
“Radiation for Iran”
“Chalabi’s Chimerical Chicanery”
“Bring Back Baghdaddy?”
“Must Love Militias”
“Swords and Sorcery”
“Dukes of Hazard”
“Weapons of Mass Despoliation”

(OK, I couldn’t get the rest into three-word phrases):

“Waste Money Daily (WMD)”
“Psycho II”
“Brokeback Country”
“Cyanide for Civil Liberties”
“Iraqi 51”
“Good Night and Good Luck”
“Abomination at Abu Ghraib”
“Altruism toward al Qaeda”
“The Buck Stops Elsewhere”
“Last King of Baghdad”
“Mangling the Middle East”
“Red State Roach Motel” (built by Halliburton)
“Wrecking Iraq for Dummies”

As my final salvo, unlike the Bush administration’s vague (some would say non-existent), “deer caught in the headlights” exit strategy for Iraq, I will be very specific in my three-word policy prescription: “Get Out Now.”


Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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