Getting Out

GETTING OUT….This is sort of a rare occurrence, but I want to strenuously disagree with Swopa today. After today’s disappointing war vote, he argues that the best way for liberals to sway public opinion over the next few months is to keep the death toll front and center:

In my opinion what matters most is for the next Iraq-funding vote opportunity to be defined ASAP and to apply the necessary weeks/months of full-court pressure to the swing votes that kept us from securing a withdrawal timeline this time around.

Which is where the mounting U.S. death toll comes in. The higher casualty rate is a result of Dubya’s “surge” strategy of increasing the visibility of our military presence in Iraq — and if that approach is kept up through the end of his term, 2,000 more Americans will have died by the end of January, 2009….Every Democrat or other progressive with access to a microphone, TV camera, or keyboard can help by reminding people that those 2,000 lives are the price we’re going to pay for not putting an end to the war.

I think this is badly wrong on two counts. Substantively it’s wrong because the death toll isn’t the reason we should withdraw from Iraq. After all, if fighting in Iraq really were critical to our national security, we’d be willing to make the sacrifice in lives and treasure that we’re making. The reason we should leave Iraq isn’t because the war is costing lives, but because the war isn’t critical to our national security.

Rhetorically, this is also a bad strategy. Focusing on the death toll merely reinforces Republican frames about “defeatist” Democrats: namely that we’re too spineless and weak-kneed to stay strong in the face of a determined opposition. Faced with a few deaths we run for cover. Likewise, most Americans don’t want to feel like they’re giving up just because they can’t take a beating. That’s cowardly, and they’ll resist arguments that make them feel that way.

Bottom line: We should avoid focusing too heavily on the death toll as a reason for withdrawal from Iraq. Rather, our primary focus should be on why this is a bad war and why our national security would be improved by getting out. Not only is it the truth, but it’s also a more persuasive argument.