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Reclaim the Issues - "Occupation, Not War"

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Every time the media - or a Democrat - uses the phrase "War in Iraq"
they are promoting one of Karl Rove's most potent Republican Party frames.

There is no longer a war against Iraq.

It ended in May of 2003, when George W. Bush stood below a "Mission
Accomplished" sign aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and correctly declared
that we had "victoriously" defeated the Iraqi army and overthrown
their government.

Our military machine is tremendously good at fighting wars - blowing up
infrastructure, killing opposing armies, and toppling governments. We did that
successfully in Iraq, in a matter of a few weeks. We destroyed their army, wiped
out their air defenses, devastated their Republican Guard, seized their capitol,
arrested their leaders, and took control of their government. We won the war.
It's over.

What we have now is an occupation of Iraq.

The occupation began when the war ended, and continues to this day. According
to our own Pentagon estimates, at least ninety five percent of those attacking
our soldiers are Iraqi civilians who view themselves as anti-occupation
fighters. And last week both the Defense Minister and the Vice President of Iraq
asked us for a specific date on which the occupation would end.

The distinction between "war" and "occupation" is
politically critical for 2006 because wars can be won or lost, but occupations
most honorably end by redeployments.

We won World War II and it carried Roosevelt to great political heights. We
lost the Vietnam War and it politically destroyed Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard
Nixon, and Jerry Ford. And as we fought to a draw in Korea, it so wounded Harry
S. Truman politically that he didn't have a strong enough base of support to run
for re-election against Dwight D. Eisenhower.

American's don't like to lose or draw at a war. Even people who oppose wars
find it uncomfortable, at some level, to lose, and Republican strategists are
using this psychological reality for political gain. When wars are won - even
when they're totally illegal and undeclared wars, like Reagan's adventure in
Grenada - it tends to create a national good feeling.

On the other hand, when arguably just wars, or at least legally defensible
"police action" wars, like Korea, are not won, they wound the national
psyche. And losing a war - like the German loss of WWI - can be so devastating
psychologically to a citizenry that it sets up a nation for strongman
dictatorship to "restore the national honor."

On the other hand, an "occupation" is something that logically
should one day end, and, if it's an expensive occupation in lives or money, will
find popular support to end as soon as possible.

The various colonial powers of Europe ended their occupations of most of
Africa, for example, and there was no national emotional pain associated with
it. Churchill's withdrawal from Uganda increased his popularity with Brits.

While Americans hate to lose wars, we're generally pleased to wrap up
occupations. We had no problem with ending our occupation of The Philippines,
numerous South Pacific islands, and the redeployment of our troops stationed in
nations conquered in World War II (Japan and Germany) from broad-based
"occupation" to locally based "assistance." (Although we
still have troops in Japan and Germany, neither country has been functionally
"occupied" by us since the late 1940s and the "legal"
occupation of both ended shortly thereafter. It should also be remembered that
not a single American life was lost because of hostile fire in either brief
post-war occupation.)

If Democrats can succeed over the next three months in making it clear to
average Americans that the "War In Iraq" ended in 2003, and that we're
now engaged in an "Occupation Of Iraq," then Democratic suggestions to
end or greatly diminish the occupation will take on a resonance and cogency that
will both help them in an election year, and help to bring our soldiers to
safety and Iraq to stability.

On the other hand, if Democrats are perceived as pushing for America to
"lose the war in Iraq," they will be vilified and damned by
Republicans and many swing voters, and could thus lose big in 2006.

The "War" is over. The Occupation has now lasted 3 years and one
month - far longer than necessary.

Here's a "for example" scenario - fictitious at this moment - of
how Democrats should play it out:

[Tim Russert]: So, Senator Reid, what do you think of this most recent
news from the War In Iraq?

[Senator Reid]: The war ended in May of 2003, Tim. Our military did their
usual brilliant job, and we defeated Saddam's army. The Occupation Of Iraq,
however, isn't going so well, in large part because the Bush Administration
has totally botched the job, leading to the death of thousands of our
soldiers, and dragging our nation into disrepute around the world. I'd like to
see us greatly scale down the current Occupation of Iraq, redeploy our
Occupation Forces to nearby nations in case we're needed by the new Iraqi
government, and get our brave young men and women out of harm's way.
Occupations have a nasty way of fomenting civil wars, you know, and we don't
want this one to go any further than it has.

[Tim Russert]: But isn't the War In Iraq part of the Global War On

[Senator Reid]: Our Occupation Of Iraq is encouraging more Muslims around
the world to eye us suspiciously. Some may even be inspired by our Occupation
of this Islamic nation to take up arms or unconventional weapons against us,
perhaps even here at home, just as Osama Bin Laden said he hit us on 9/11
because we were occupying part of his homeland, Saudi Arabia, at the Prince
Sultan Air Force Base, where Bush Senior first put troops in 1991 to project
force into Kuwait and enforce the Iraqi no-fly zone. The Bush policy of an
unending Occupation Of Iraq is increasing the danger that people will use the
tactic of terror against us and our allies, and, just like George W. Bush
wisely redeployed our troops from Saudi Arabia, we should begin right now to
redeploy our troops who are occupying Iraq.

[Tim Russert]: But the War...

[Senator Reid]: Tim, Tim, Tim! The war is over! George W. Bush declared
victory himself, in May of 2003, when our brave soldiers seized control of
Iraq. That's the definition of the end of a war, as anybody who's ever served
in the military can tell you. Unfortunately, our Occupation Of Iraq since the
end of the war, using a small military force and a lot of Halliburton, hasn't
worked. We should take Halliburton's billions and give them to the Iraqis so
they can rebuild their own nation, the way we helped Europeans rebuild after
World War Two. And go from being an occupying power to being an ally of Iraq
and the Iraqi people, like we did with Japan and Germany.

[Tim Russert (bewildered)]: I can't call it a war anymore? We have to
change our NBC "War In Iraq" banners and graphics?

[Senator Reid (patting Russert's hand)]: Yes, Tim. The war is over. It's
now an occupation, and has been for three years. And like all occupations,
it's best to wrap it up so Iraq can get on with their business. I'm sure your
graphics people can come up with some new logos that say "Occupation Of
Iraq." It'll be a nice project for them, maybe even earn them some
much-needed overtime pay. The "War In Iraq" graphics are getting a
bit stale, don't you think? After all, soon we'll be able to say that we
fought World War II in less time than we've been in Iraq. Wars are usually
short, but occupations - particularly when they're done stupidly - can be

[Tim Russert (brightening)]: Ah, so! Now I get it! I even wrote about
wars and occupations in my book about my dad. Thanks for coming on the program
today and clarifying this for us.

If the Democrats don't shift the discussion from "war" to
"occupation," the Republicans will succeed in painting them as being
"in favor of losing a war," which will destroy their electoral

Instead, every time a Republican or a member of the press uses the Rove
slogan "War in Iraq," Democrats need to correct them by saying,
"You mean the Occupation of Iraq..."

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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