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Ain't No Waggin' this Dog

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

Wednesday's televised discussion could be called the Ohio debacle. The public relations campaign to garner support for military action in Iraq backfired in a most extraordinary way.

The hawks of the Clinton administration were trotted out in a "town hall meeting," an event that was a hallmark of Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, it proved to be an explosive episode where the baby-boomer, campus radicals of yesterday met up with some fiery, college activists of today.

The whole world was watching as Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, and National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, struggled through opening statements while members of the audience frequently interrupted with hoots and jeers. What the administration's merchandisers were attempting to sell was clear. They wanted to convince people that the time to start a bombing campaign is now. But a sizable portion of the crowd wasn't buying their pitch. In a tribute to demonstrations from the sixties, Secretary Albright mused philosophically while protesters boisterously chanted, "One, two, three, four, we don't want your racist war."

This CNN exclusive was presumably staged to show the world an informed and unified citizenry. Instead it presented a divided, uncivil and generally hostile crowd. In the days to come, the White House will be laboring to answer the question-why did this event fail so miserably?

Apparently the public is not quite ready to join in the administration's war dance. Through their serious and pointed questions, this select audience revealed that there might well be a lack of conviction on the part of many Americans to invade the nation of Iraq.

One professor at OSU asked whether the United States has the moral right to attack Iraq. Secretary Cohen, who had apparently forgotten his bag of sugar, could only fall back on some unemotional rhetoric about UN expectations and demands. Another question concerned the fact that the U.S. is justifying an invasion ostensibly to protect Iraq's neighbors, yet nearby countries are opposed to any military action by us. A veteran asked whether the U.S. is willing to send in troops to complete the job this time rather than leave an unfinished problem to resurface in the future. A student asked why we have singled out Iraq for attack when so many other nations are in violation of UN declarations.

The questions that supported non-intervention received resounding applause and cheers. Judy Woodruff and Bernie Shaw looked so shell-shocked during the broadcast that viewers may have thought the battle had already begun.

Backed into defensive responses, Cohen and the others eliminated from consideration strategic options such as the use of ground troops or the removal of Hussein. This effectively tipped the hand of the U.S. to Iraq and the world.

The stark contrast between the deadly seriousness of war and the superficial talk show format was surreal. One member of the audience called the event what it was, a staged sham.

All of this leaves us to ponder the real reason for this humiliating fiasco. Could it be that there is simply a lack of true leadership? Leadership, particularly in matters of such grave importance, cannot be delegated away. The buck cannot be passed to cabinet members, public relations spokespersons or the public at large. A war should not and must not be conducted through focus groups or use of campaign tactics. A strong, convincing leader with the requisite moral authority must step forward to logically and persuasively provide an explanation for the use of military force.

The polls that were 50 percent in favor of an Iraqi invasion have fallen to 41 percent. The President is hiding in the rose garden while he sends his surrogates out to lift the opinion polls before taking any action. Sadly, an administration that lacks moral authority to guide the country through a foreign crisis wishes to follow the public rather than lead it.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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