In his last column, Rich makes the point that “the phrase ‘stay the course’ has flipped in its political significance. It used to be the rallying cry of the war’s supporters. Now, it is gleefully used by critics to discredit the war’s supporters.”
The President looked good today, but in the end I think he only reinforced this basic communications problem. And I worry that the administration may be in the midst of creating an entirely new communications problem–in Iraq.
First the domestic problem: The president talked several times about staying “until the job gets done.” The problem with ‘stay the course’ and ‘get the job done’ is that it leaves people with no idea what the practical goals are. Nobody wants to stay on a unpleasant course when the destination is defined with the specificity of “feels like” and “you’ll know it when you’re there.” We need things like “The solution is a massive permanent presence of Iraqi Security Forces on the streets of Baghdad. We have to do this and they have to that and then we’ll be there.”
Meanwhile, I found dangerously heavy-handed his use of phrases like “we’re going to push Maliki” and our “patience won’t last forever.” Yesterday Maliki gave a defiant speech to the effect that Iraq is sovereign and nobody ( i.e., the United States) is going to impose anything on them. Arabs are exceedingly proud, and often not in a good way: they will gladly dispense with help they desperately need if the gift comes wrapped in an implied insult. I am of the opinion that being mean to Maliki while we’re being nice to Kim Jong-Il and Ahmadinejad is asking for big trouble — it’s bad strategy and bad karma.
The administration needs to explain its own benchmarks to the American people–in a way that avoids causing a fight with the Maliki government. So far, it seems to be failing on both counts — and that is NOT a course this administration wants to stay on.