I missed the GOP debate last night (turned it on at 9 to watch it, in time to see Wolf wrap it up) but I did catch Fred Thompson on Fox News afterward in the coveted post-debate slot previously owned by Newt Gingrich. Admittedly, he had the rare opportunity to speak in paragraphs without interruptions, heckling and counterpoints, but he really nailed every issue Hannity tossed at him. He's the real straight talker, tough, common sense, unapologetic, firm, trustable and likeable. What I really liked was that he spoke only of what *he* thinks, how *he* interprets the issues and what *he* would do. He didn't talk about others, just himself. That is a winning message.
He generally agreed with Hanson's argument below. Americans have not been talked to about the war, so we are not engaged. If someone would like to talk to us about it, there is still the good chance that we will understand and agree. That is Bush's major failing -- not wrongheadedness, not wrong strategy, not stubbornness, mainly a failure to communicate. I don't get him at all.
We can quibble and fight about tactics on the ground, manpower numbers, strategic postures toward Iran and Syria, the need to prod the Iraqis, but our problem is more existential. Either stabilizing Iraq now is felt critical to the United States and the West or it isn’t. If the Left is right that it isn’t, then we should flee; if they are wrong, and I think they are, then we must start using our vast cultural and media resources to explain what is at stake — in a strategic and humanitarian sense — and precisely what it is costing America and why it in the long run is worth it, and how we have adjusted to counter our enemies who in the last four years have not won in Iraq or anywhere else either.
By our relative inaction on these critical informational fronts, we are only raising the bar impossibly high for General Petraeus when he reports back to Congress in the autumn. For election-minded Republican senators and representatives (whose defection alone can end the war) the barometer of success unfortunately may be soon not be improvement in six months, but only an impossible demand for absolute victory in 2007.
So more explanation, less assertion; more debate with, rather than dismissal of, critics. And the final irony? The more brutal honesty, the less euphemism and generalities, the more Americans will accept the challenge.