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Orwell visits the debate over Iraq

No one listening to the recent Iraq debate can doubt the final triumph of Orwellian Newspeak. The commentary revealed widespread acceptance of language as a tool to obfuscate, manipulate and deceive rather than to clarify, educate and enlighten.

No one listening to the recent Iraq debate can doubt the final triumph of Orwellian Newspeak. The commentary revealed widespread acceptance of language as a tool to obfuscate, manipulate and deceive rather than to clarify, educate and enlighten.

The widely repeated canard was that Democrats suffered a drubbing at the hands of a united Republican Party on an Iraq offensive. Almost every element of that assertion is inaccurate.

Because it was foreordained, the legislative outcome was meaningless. No reasonable person expected Republicans to abandon their president here; therefore the GOP’s majority status guaranteed victories on the floor of the House and Senate.

Senate Democrats were clearly on offense, offering the key amendments. In the House, Republicans put forward a vapid resolution precisely because Democrats have been so successful in directing public attention to GOP failures.

Republicans did snort, snarl and vituperate against Democrats, but to what effect?

Democrats continue to come out on top in the only venue where victory is possible — the court of public opinion. Large majorities of Americans disapprove of Republican handling of Iraq, believe our policy there has been a mistake and want to begin to withdraw troops. More trust Democrats rather than Republicans to deal with Iraq.

Talk of Democratic division also obscures the central facts. Democrats are united in saying Bush bungled the war. Democrats are united in saying we should change course in Iraq. Most Democrats united behind a specific bill to change course by beginning to bring home troops this year.

At the level of basic policy there is unity, though there are some differences as to tactics — the precise pace at which troops should be withdrawn. Focusing on tactical disagreements over the pace of withdrawal, at the expense of revealing the unity on principle and strategy, is to obscure reality in an attempt to deceive the public.

Dwelling on divisions in the periphery of Democratic thinking also obscured the core differences between Democrats and Republicans on Iraq. Democrats want to change course in Iraq, while Republicans argue to stay the course. That central difference could hardly be more clear-cut.

But what is the course that Republicans so fervently wish to stay? Some Republicans want to keep U.S. troops in Iraq permanently, establishing American bases there. Others want us to remain in the country until “democracy” flowers. Many may have altered their views and would be happy to withdraw U.S. troops once “stability” is achieved. But what are their indicia of stability? On this point, too, there is likely substantial disagreement among Republicans, but oddly no one has even pursued the question.

In the end, there is likely more disagreement about the tactics of an Iraq plan among Republicans than Democrats.

Looking ahead, what will become of those Republicans who voted against beginning withdrawal this year but who hail such a move if the president announces it this fall? Will headlines denounce them as incoherent flip-floppers? Or will they be consistent, arguing Bush is cutting and running?

Voting against Levin-Reed or against “precipitous withdrawal” reflects neither unity nor clarity. The absence of both among Republicans is evident from the rarely reported fact that it is Republicans who have no plan for Iraq. Opposition to withdrawal does not constitute a plan. Neither does “stay the course” if that course is not clearly defined.

The good news is that voters see through Republican Newspeak. They do not yet understand that Democrats have a coherent approach, but they are clear in acknowledging the failure of the president. With 62 percent disapproving of the way Bush is handling Iraq, only shameless Orwellians can claim a GOP “victory.”

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.