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Reframing the Iraq Funding Debate

Apropos of the post below, Salon's Glenn Greenwald shreds the myth that Democrats have little choice but to support unrestricted funding for Iraq. As Greenwald explains in his article, challenging Newsweek's Jonathan Alter's defense of Democrats' support for funding without timelines:

...our Iraq war policy was just determined, in large part if not principally, by a complete myth: that de-funding proposals constitute an abandonment or, more ludicrously still, "endangerment" of the troops.

It is difficult to overstate how irrational this theme is, and yet it is equally difficult to overstate what a decisive role it just played in ensuring the continuation of the war. Polls consistently demonstrate that Americans overwhelmingly favor compelled withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. Other than defunding, they overwhelmingly favor every legislative mechanism for achieving that goal -- from a straightforward bill setting a mandatory time deadline to a rescission of the resolution authorizing military force to compulsory benchmarks. Yet polls are equally uniform in showing that a solid majority of Americans oppose de-funding.

Yet, rationally speaking, this makes absolutely no sense. De-funding is nothing more than a legislative instrument for ending the war, and is substantively indistinguishable in every way from the other war-ending legislative means which Americans favor.

In other words. Americans want deadlines and timetables attached to Iraq funding legislation, but many are under the false impression that voting against funding bills that have no limitations will leave our troops vulnerable. Republicans know this, and they exploit this myth effectively, so much so that many liberal Democratic leaders supported unlimited funding legislation. Thus, many of the same elected officials who advocate deadlines and timetables on Iraq funding feel compelled to vote for unrestricted funding legislation when it is offered.

Apparently most Americans don't want to spend a lot of time studying the fine points of all the Iraq funding proposals. And so the parliamentary chess game goes on, and by the time November '08 rolls around voters will be inundated with charges and countercharges about who did or didn't support the troops. But Democrats must not allow this simplistic meme to dominate concerns about Iraq policy on election day. They must make sure that the more resonant message voters take to the polls is that the GOP is the party that supports open-ended occupation of Iraq.

In his latest post at the Rockridge Institute web page, George Lakoff and co-author Glen W. Smith explain the framing psychology behind GOP myth-mongering:

Congress allowed the president to take over its job to decide the strategic mission and to put Congress in the role of merely providing funding. This allowed the president to cast Congress in the role of "refusing to fund the troops," "endangering the safety of our troops," "playing chicken with the lives of our troops," "hamstringing our troops," and so on. It allowed President Bush to portray Congress as responsible for the safety of our troops, whereas the real responsibility lay with him. By allowing the president to reframe the Constitution and take away their powers, Congress made itself fatally vulnerable. Most of the Democrats wound up adopting the president's framing of them as responsible for the safety of the troops.

But rather than reacting with expressions of disgust and let it go at that, Lakoff and Smith offer a number of interesting ideas for reframing the issue of Iraq funding, including:

Progressives must point out that it is the president, with an enabling Congress, who commenced a foolhardy adventure with no clear exit strategy or way to "win." That same president has refused to properly prepare or adequately equip soldiers and now he is blaming Congress. When Congress passed a supplemental spending bill with reasonable timetables attached, he refused it. The betrayer is the president. Say it over and over: The president has betrayed our troops and the nation.

Lakoff and Smith point out that the current funding authorization is only good through September and that there will be other opportunities for Democrats to act. They even outline a course of action for Democratic activists. Their article should be a keeper for party strategists and activists alike.