Framing Petraeus

by: Matt Stoller

Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 16:45

This week is a tremendous messaging opportunity on Iraq for anyone who wants to take it.  General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are testifying in the House and the Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday about the surge.  The goal from our perspective should be to pose the question of whether our presence in Iraq is making us safer, rather than focusing on levels of violence and the tactical questions surrounding the surge.  Barack Obama frames it correctly with this question.

Obama, an Illinois Democrat, also wants a quick end to the war. On Friday, he said: ""We still don't have a good answer to the question posed by Sen. (John) Warner the last time Gen. Petraeus appeared: How has this effort in Iraq made us safer and how do we expect it will make us safer in the long run?"

By far the worst framing is done by Carl Levin, speaking about the surge.

"In my judgment, it's too rosy, but there are parts of it that are not so rosy, and both pieces need to be declassified," Sen. Carl Levin said, pointing in particular to the portion of the report describing Iraq's political progress.

Levin also likes to blame the Iraqi government for the problems in Iraq.  It's actually a fairly common line, with prominent Democrats undercutting a coherent message.

"We saw a meaningful reduction in violence, and that presented an opportunity to build up national reconciliation that was the underlying premise of the surge," said Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It seems that the Iraqis have largely frittered it away."

Republicans, meanwhile, see this week as an opportunity to push their message about winning in Iraq.  Here's what Republicans are planning.

On the Republican side, a veterans group tied to the party is planning a rally near the Senate, while House Republicans are coordinating with conservative bloggers and will invite conservative radio commentators to broadcast from Washington. Republicans plan to push for new money for troops in Iraq; to highlight statements by Democrats that the troop "surge," which ended last fall, has worked; to point out some signs of political reconciliation; and to insist that troops can be removed from Iraq only when military leaders decide it is the proper time.

"The goal of the effort is not just to reinforce the message delivered by General Petraeus, but to launch a full-fledged assault on the misinformation campaign promoted by Democratic leaders who have lost every time they have tried to legislate defeat for America," said an internal strategy memo for Republican communications operatives.

It is clear that DC Democrats have several different lines of messaging going on that work against each other.  Some of them want to drill into the tactics of the surge, some want to discuss larger national security questions, and some want to concede the surge worked but that the Iraqis are somehow at fault.

It's important to recognize that this is all a sideshow to the real question in front of all of us, one avoided by many of the politicians in DC.  What do we do in Iraq to make our country safer?

Matt Stoller :: Framing Petraeus

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Framing Petraeus | 17 comments
An Exercise In Futility (0.00 / 0)
Bottom line is that as long as we don't have 60 votes in the Senate nothing is going to change.

Yes we need to speak about Iraq but because of the above it won't lead to anywhere different than it has before.

As for does our presence in Iraq makes us safer - well IMO when a hopefully Democratic president correctly determines that that leaving Iraq in mass would cause further chaos and genocide in Iraq and as a result negatively affect the world oil markets - which would drive our economy and world economies deeper into recession that person will keep all the troops we need in Iraq to keep that from happening.

I'd sure like to see Matt or Chris address their view of the aftermath of us leaving because so far they have not responsibly addressed that. What about the likely escalation of genocide? What about the effect of skyrocketing oil prices? What about the likelihood that given those two things we would have to go back in and face a more dire situation? Just leaving is not the end nor the answer.

As much as I'd like out myself one has to be realistic.

The 60 votes doesn't matter at this point .. (0.00 / 0)
it's all about the questions you ask .. and the Dems(live Carl Levin) .. are too clueless to ask the right questions .. or to frame them correctly

[ Parent ]
Hm (0.00 / 0)
Iraq's oil production is already dramatically down, and extremely unstable, and comprises only a small portion of global oil production. In the event it does drop or halt, it will have a relatively minor effect on prices.

It is likely that the presence of American troops is only stalling any political compromise that may happen. None of the parties who benefit from our presence (Maliki, the Kurds) have any incentive to compromise. There's no incentive for Maliki to take the training of the Iraqi military seriously as long as we are going to keep bailing him out. We are providing a target and a recruitment tool for foreign terrorists and a for radical factions in Iraq, and we're probably blocking any possible compromises.

As for the possibility that an American withdrawal could lead to a short term increase in violence, the burden of proof is on those who want to stay to explain how we'll somehow remove that possibility. How many dollars and how many lives is it worth to postpone something that we cannot possibly prevent?

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
speaking of framing (0.00 / 0)
I asked on another thread in response to this line of questioning what the empirical basis of your assertion is that if the Untied States withdrew its troops there would be "genocide" or "further chaos."  I'm not saying you're wrong--I'm saying if you want to discuss this in "realistic" terms then let's do that!  Why are you waiting for someone else to do so?  

Continually throwing around assertions about potentially horrendous circumstances (as has happened in withdrawals of other colonial powers like Britain in Cyprus, South Asia, Ireland, and numerous other places) without speaking in specific terms and justifying your claims is basically a recipe for fearmongering which serves as a backdoor justification for military occupation.  So if we're going to talk about genocide, tell us what you think the current situation is, where you're getting your information from, and why you think the likely outcome is dangerous.

The reason I'm putting the onus on you is because these are extremely thorny questions and they deserve serious treatment out of respect for the people that my tax money and yours has killed and maimed.

As for the economy--the sooner it collapses the better ;)  Which has little or nothing to do with my safety except in the most of oblique of ways.

[ Parent ]
Yes, let's be realistic. (0.00 / 0)
I have not yet seen a convincing argument that the current U.S. presence has in any way prevented ethnic cleansing from occurring. If you want to argue that a U.S. withdrawal will lead to an "escalation of genocide" you're going to need to show that the current U.S. presence is somehow significantly preventing an escalation that would otherwise happen.

For example, some of the relative reductions in violence in Baghdad since the escalation began appear to have more to do with ethnic cleansing being completed in those neighborhoods and less to do with increased U.S. presence.

There are also the numerous accounts of U.S.-backed members of the Iraqi government utilizing their positions to carry out torture, ethnic cleansing, and so on. To argue that our withdrawal would open the door for these elements to carry out greater crimes ignores that fact that our support of the Iraqi government has in many cases ENABLED rather than restricted them their crimes thus far.

[ Parent ]
When Obama becomes our Framer in Chief... (0.00 / 0)
It will be so nice when Obama is officially declared the nominee and the press begins to treat his statements as the de facto Democratic message. His facility with the language and ability to discuss issues in ways that cut across traditional political lines (e.g., "In the 'Red' states we don't like Federal Agents poking around our libraries...") are DESPERATELY needed.

So where is Vote Vets? (0.00 / 0)
Not that every group has the responsibility to take this opportunity, but who is, exactly?

I look to these types of events to try and figure out what groups are doing the cutting-edge organizing, messaging, etc. Any word on who's leading the charge?

Not to diminish Obama's small contribution, but he can't set the narrative himself, and I for one am not at all comfortable relying on him to.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

About the Surge (0.00 / 0)
Obama addressed the question of progress in Iraq since the surge began. He said the improvements were welcome, but not sufficient.

"We have set the bar so low that it's buried in the sand at this point," he said.

John McCain doesn't care about Vets.

no credibility (0.00 / 0)
Obama really has no credibility here--what this is the first time he has raised a question while blindly voting to fund the war?  Way too little, too late.

[ Parent ]
No credibility.... (0.00 / 0)
as opposed to who? Clinton? McCain?

John McCain doesn't care about Vets.

[ Parent ]
Avoid him now (4.00 / 1)
Petraeus utterly routed the Democrats when he had bad news.  Now the bully has good news to present.  Who called these hearings, anyway?  

The best strategy is to remeber how much of a partisan tool Petraeus is and to punish him in the future by denying the easy promotions that come along to generals who go along with the Bush White House.  Ken Starr, after all, is never going to reach his dream of becoming a Supreme Court Justice.  Well, Petraeus should not get promoted and become (for example) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  I'd never vote to confirm him for anything if I was a Democratic Senator. Ever.

Strangely enough, the record of Congress vis-a-vis the military has been awful.  Washington, Grant, Sherman, and Marshall got the ugly treatment while Gates and McClellan were lauded.

Two questions (0.00 / 0)
Petraeus is the one who largely trained the Iraqi Army, those guys who refused to fight last week.  He needs to be asked why they performerd so poorly--is it because only the militiamen have a cause or leadership that they consider worth fighting and dying for?  Why is it that our enemies always seem to fight with more conviction than our allies?  (This goes back to Vietnam and Central America).

As for the second question, I'm not sure it is "are we safer" but "Is any additional increment in security we have gained from Iraq--if we have--worth the cost in lives and the lost opportunities of investing the money at home to improve infrastructure, education, health care etc.?"  Would not those investments also have made us stronger as a nation, as well as more prosperous?

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
reduced to asking questions (0.00 / 0)
this war was a lie to begin with.  Now we're trying to "ask the right questions"...Obama can't come up with a question on his own, he has to point to someone else's question.

If any of the candidates use this for political gain I will be furious.  This isn't a football game and whose got the best question.  This is about life and death.

Right (0.00 / 0)
Maybe if we abandon politics, the war will magically end.

Candidates should use the war for political gain, because that's what politics is all about. Winning because you are right about the issue and someone else is wrong, and then using that victory to solve the problem.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
totally disagree with you (0.00 / 0)
Precisely because we have politics, we have war.  A bunch of politicians, worried about being accused of being "weak on defense" or "not supporting our soldiers" are the ones who send Americans to their death.

This is not a game of politics.  And if Obama uses this to "bolster his national security credentials", it will be as empty as Bush's rhetoric.

War itself is a crime against humanity.  Wrap your political brain around that one, and see if politics offers you a solution.

[ Parent ]
Yikes (0.00 / 0)
What do you think the non-political solution to war is? I once stood on the corner with a "honk for peace" sign. It was fun and all, but it was also like three years ago, and the war is still going on. And even that, in its own way, is a very political act.

The point of determining the "right" questions and rewarding the politicians who ask them is to separate those who are trying to "bolster" their national security credentials or otherwise undermine the anti-war effort from those who are actual pushing the ideas that will help build support for ending this thing.

The war probably will not end before 2009. It may end in 2009. The single thing that will have the most influence on whether or not it does is American politics.

You haven't presented some alternative, so I can't even really tell what you actually think, but it sure makes me wonder what you're doing on this blog if you don't think politics matter.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
Framing Petraeus | 17 comments

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