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Friday, May 19, 2006

Diversionary tactics

Are you familiar with the "diversionary theory of war"? Prof. William D. Baker, though skeptical of the phenomenon, nonetheless provides a succinct description:
...the diversionary theory of war posits that such internal domestic factors as presidential approval, election cycles, and the state of the economy may affect decisions to employ force... The popular presumption that presidents will turn to military adventurism to divert attention from dismal economic conditions, faltering popularity ratings or pending electoral misfortune is well represented both historically and in the mainstream media...
In recent decades, leaders as diverse as Argentine's 1982 junta leader Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton have been accused of boosting their political standing by engaging or escalating military conflict with other states.

In the case of the Bush administration, however, a foreign war has created a domestic calamity -- Iraq has "shattered" the President's popularity.

As revealed in his May 18 interview with NBC's David Gregory, even the President knows "that’s what colors everybody’s vision, it seems like. People are worried about Iraq."

Given this political context, the future of the Bush administration may depend upon the American people forgetting about Iraq (and, and...just where was that other war? Oh, yes, Afghanistan).

One alternative might be war with Iran: a new diversionary war.

Then again, the administration seems committed to diplomacy (at least for now) and a war would be quite risky, for a number of important reasons.

Another alternative is to reframe various policies as part of the "war on terror" rather than the war in Iraq. This is the strategy that helped save Bush in 2004.

Interestingly, the nomination of Mike Hayden to head CIA helps distract attention away from Iraq and Afghanistan. Any time the public focuses on the "war on terrorism," rather than the hot wars abroad, Bush wins. In Hayden's confirmation hearings, he even suggested that the CIA needs to shift its attention away from these wars. William Arkin of the Post:
The intelligence community, Hayden said, was too focused on the immediate and not enough looking to the future. It was an ever so subtle criticism of a core Bush administration position that Iraq and Afghanistan are THE fronts in the war on terrorism. We may have made them that, Hayden seemed to be saying, but throwing the preponderance of resources into these battles merely perpetuates a culture of satisfying immediate needs while neglecting a longer term and broader view of the challenges posed by radical Islam.
These various tactics may be working. Iraq is often bumped to the back pages of the newspapers or out of prime time television, stories lack context, and just about everyone seems to agree that Americans aren't getting the full story about Iraq. Various media outlets are now overtly listening to critics in and out of the administration who want to see the sunny side of Iraq.

And, you know, neither the war in Iraq nor the nation's rebuilding is going all that well.

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