Having recovered from a weekend of BBQ bloodlust, I’m ready to resume our discussion about winning the war on terror. The fourth step in this process is for our leadership to clearly and simply articulate the vision.
- What are we doing?
- Why are we doing it?
- Why is it necessary?
- What is our strategy?
- What will the outcomes likely be?
- What’s at stake?
- Who is involved (for good or ill)?
The American people aren’t stupid. And every leader, if he’s to be followed well (to have his organization behind him), has to clearly paint a picture of where they’re going together … continually, so that everyone knows it readily off the top of their heads … even if they don’t agree with it. Whether you like it or not, the President of the United States is the leader of the free world — the most powerful and influential man on the planet today. And in this war on terror, certainly he leads. Setting aside for a second what President Bush’s policies, ideas, strategies, plans for the war on terror are and whether or not they’re good ones, it would be hard to deny that he’s done a terrible job in communicating them. I’ve said it before, “Stay the course” is not a plan. It’s certainly not a well-communicated vision for the future.
We have an incredible responsibility as a nation. Regardless of what some say, there is a war, and we didn’t start it. But if we’re to finish it and finish it well, then we need the American people (as well as nations who are on the fence about whether or not to support us) to really get what we’re trying to do here — to believe in it. I think Bush instilled that kind of trust and confidence right after 9/11, but not any more. Just about everyone doubts him (the poll numbers make that clear), and I don’t blame them. How can people not doubt him (and by proxy, our nation), when he barely ever sticks his head out of the oval office to give us a reason not to. It’s not about whether or not he’s popular or about who’s getting elected for what, it’s about defeating a brutal enemy bent on destroying our way of life. And the only way to do that in a free and open democratic society like ours is to “win the hearts and minds” of the people (yes, I used that incredibly charged political phrase on purpose).
This, however, does NOT mean cow-towing to the huddled masses. Farmer Joe and truck-driver Bob and CEO Fred absolutely DO NOT have all the information necessary to make good decisions about the war. Neither do I. On the contrary, the president and his cabinet and his military advisers have the best information there is, and many of them have amazing education and experience through which to interpret that information. We do not. I do not. So, I’m not talking about getting the approval of the arm-chair quarterbacks before doing anything. I’m talking about leveling with us (we’re the president’s boss), and helping us understand what our military and our diplomats are doing and why.
It’s also not about getting every nation on earth to agree with us. News flash: They never will. Most of the nations involved here have quite a bit of self-interest in play (including the US). And many who claim to be our friends really aren’t. So, I don’t really care what France and Germany and Russia think of us. I’m amazed at how many people think that if we were just a little more well-behaved / politically correct, then somehow magically they’d start voting with us in UN Security Council meetings or sending troops into battle where needed. Look at the joke of a commitment France made to the peacekeeping efforts in the recent Lebanon-Israel conflict. So, France screamed really loud, and everyone said, “Ok, France, you lead — we’ll do it your way.” And they responded by demonstrating their vast commitment to peace and freedom and helping other people in the form of 200 troops. *rolls eyes* So, I’m not particularly worried about what countries like France think. I mean with friends like that, who needs Hezbollah. But legitimate allies — like the UK or Australia — they need to understand (as well as the American people do) our vision for the future as we lead in this fight. Without it, all that’s left is growing skepticism and confusion.
Here’s what I propose… The President needs to get on television every week on Sunday night and gave a status report, in which he casts a vision of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and where we’re going. If he did so, don’t you think the American people would be a lot more likely to be willing to follow him? And it’d make it that much harder for the anti-Bush media here and around the world (and I can’t believe people still argue that the average US newspaper or television networks or certain magazines or certainly a number of state-run foreign media outlets lean liberal — but that’s another topic for another day) from having the only word to say about the war. They spend SO much time focusing on the negative. At least this way, there’d be a vehicle for some positive news and some hope for the future to make it out to people. Of course, I’m not saying the Bush White House should just counter the mainstream negativity with positive-spin propoganda. That’s not balance. I’m saying that they should tell us what’s happening. At least present their side. And tell us how the mission’s going … WHERE the mission’s going.
As long as Bush gets on TV once a quarter and just says “I believe in freedom, now stay the course!”, then more and more of the American people (ill-informed, with no real understanding of the world and no real vision for how to play out our leadership role in it) will turn against the war and pound the “retreat now so nobody else dies” drum. As long as the only voice in play is the New York Times (their four op-ed columns wrote over 150 columns about the war on terror and the Bush administration from Feb 2005 through Jul 2006, and of them ZERO were positive), then the whole world will continue to have no alternative but to see us how the newspapers paint us — as imperialist war mongers. And that’s way too dangerous to be toyed with. Only Bush, by getting over his fear — or disinterest, or whatever it is — of communication, can turn that around.