Response to General Petraeus' Report

by Jamie Esquire


Amidst rumors that Gen. Petraeus'report on Iraq would be guardedly optimistic,

President Bush recently spoke before an audience of veterans about the courage of

Americans fighting there. Soon after, presidential candidates Clinton and Obama

spoke before the same audience, and echoed the President's sentiments. It seemed

the President suddenly had the Democrats on the defensive. Is there really a

difference between them? All three seemed to be singing the same song.


It was an odd moment for the candidates, especially Mr. Obama, who is generally

adept at finding something original to say. But neither Obama nor Hillary were

willing to point out the obvious, that if success in Iraq was a matter of military

courage, we'd have won the war a long time ago. Really now, has any one ever

suggested that we are having a rough time in Iraq because the troops aren't up for

the fight? What olive branch waving, folk-song singing peacenik has ever claimed

that we are losing because Americans aren't brave? None. Yet before an audience of

veterans, neither candidate could be up front with the fact that it is the

President's policies, not the courage of our fighting forces, that are the source

of our problems. Instead, both fell into echoing Bush's post-card patriotism.


Thus, Bush managed to paint himself as the true friend of the military, essentially

daring Obama and Hillary to be nay-sayers. But why did neither candidate point out

that a President who commits our troops to a long-term conflict without a plan, is

not their friend at all? Were the vets incapable of understanding that if a

Commander in-Chief really cared about the armed forces, he'd be more careful about

deploying them? Why are the Democrats so timid? Because they're afraid of being

misquoted and misinterpreted. Because, with some issues, it's safer to utter

platitudes and avoid trouble.


Americans claim to be tired of political slogans, and would like a little truth. But

when a candidate tries to explain a point in measured, nuanced terms without

overstating, and speaks knowledgeably, conveying a sense of balance, viewers get

bored and change the channel. Every news programmer knows that lengthy paragraphs

lead to ridicule, to accusations of being "wonkish" and out of touch with the

common man.


Last week, I heard a radio talk show featuring Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, a

man I'm apt to disagree with about everything. However, on that day, the

interviewer asked insightful, open-ended questions that allowed Mr. Huckabee to put

his best foot forward, and give his ideas an honest airing. He actually sounded

bright. He won't get my vote, but after hearing him out, I have a bit more respect

for him. That's because the interviewer wasn't trying to corner him into

self-contradiction, or hang him on a fumbled sentence. Now if journalists could

display a similar attitude towards all our candidates, we might learn what they

really stand for.