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"Stay the Course":

E.J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post today, "First Step? Admit There's a Problem." He writes:

History repeats itself in strange ways. Consider two statements.

"A slogan like 'stay the course' is unacceptable."

And: "Stay the course is not a policy."

The first quotation goes back to October 1982, when a Republican candidate for governor of New York named Lewis Lehrman complained about his party's national slogan during that year's midterm elections. Stay the course, insisted Lehrman, who eventually lost narrowly to Democrat Mario Cuomo, was a lousy theme in the face of a 10 percent national unemployment rate.

The second quotation is of more recent, though still Republican, coinage. Last Sunday, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska laid into the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. Hagel insisted that remaining in Iraq over an extended period -- staying the course -- "would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence."

The problem with Dionne's argument, of course, is that with respect to 1982, history has shown Reagan was right and Lehrman was wrong on the wisdom of the "stay the course" strategy, as the short-term pain of the severe 1982 recession created the economic conditions for a long-term boom. At the very least, Dionne seems to be mixing apples and oranges--Lehrman seems to be criticizing Reagan's rhetoric (the "slogan" of "stay the course") more than the policy, whereas Hagel is criticizing the substantive policy decision.

This is not to say anything about whether "Stay the course" is the right or wrong policy in Iraq, it is simply to say that the substance of the Lehrman example seems to support exactly the opposite of the point Dionne intends.

flyer (mail) (www):
E.J. Dionne's a smart man who always seems to miss the point anyway. For a better critique of the "Stay the course" rhetoric, read Jonah Goldberg's piece on NRO today. Excerpt:

There is an important lesson for President Bush in all this. The message of his recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars was that we need to "stay the course." That has been his talking point for a very long time. And, in fairness, if your policy is to stay the course, then saying "stay the course" has a certain irrefutable logic to it. But on any long journey, even if the course remains the same the terrain may change.
Nobody needs to stay the course when everything's going perfectly - some hardship is implied in the message, also the need to continue, knowing the overall stratgy is still correct.
8.26.2005 12:33pm
frankcross (mail):
"Stay the course" is rhetoric. It tends to be effective for a while. Because failing to stay the course looks weak and vacillating. It was therefore ultimately effective for Reagan, because the economy turned around dramatically. However, after a time "stay the course" in the face of frustration looks not so much strong as stubborn. I suspect it is not a good long term trope for Bush, because I suspect that Iraq will not turn around so obviously and dramatically as did the Reagan economy.

As policy, I doubt "stay the course" has much pull. The Administration is not staying the course because it's devoted to staying the course for its own sake. It began with the goal to remake Iraq and it still has that goal, so it's staying the course for external reasons.
8.26.2005 12:57pm
bill-10k (mail) (www):
I too doubt that stay the course has much pull after a while, with the people in America. But if you ask Iraqis, I would be they are glad we aren't going to change course on them. If we did it would be a disaster.

I am always struck by the Vietnam anti-war protest folks and how they want to overlook the fact that failing to stay the course had disastrous consequences for the people on the ground. The left always tries to prevent you from thinking about those consequences with their catchy slogans and lingo. The millions of dead SE Asians speaks loudly of the consequences of NOT staying the course.

Expediency at home does not necessarily translate to Iraq proper, nor the catchy slogans of the leftists. Great care should be exercised when trying to make that leap of faith. Make the wrong move now, and millions of Iraqis may end up as fodder for the Isloamo-Fascists.
8.26.2005 1:39pm
PersonFromPorlock:
It's pretty much a case of 'necessary but not sufficient'. If you have a policy and you don't 'stay the course' then you don't have a policy. But what policy you do have matters too; left-wing Democrats are doing a fine job of staying their course, for instance, but it can't be said they're profiting much.
8.26.2005 1:55pm
cfw (mail):
Looks like we are fighting a GSAVE and they are fighting a war. We use police or SWAT tactics and legal hearings (in Iraq now, apparently, per Michael Yon). They fight total war plus illegal war.

I see conceptual asymmetry in their favor. How long before we have reporters like Yon (http://michaelyon.blogspot.com/) embedded with Iraqi units reporting heroic action by our Iraqis against insurgent Iraqis? If not in the next 6-12 months, are we backing a winner (comparable to the mujahedeen-types we backed against the Soviets in Afganistan)? Hopefully we are not backing the sort of weak, uncommitted, in-it-for-the-money client we backed in Vietnam.

It still appears from writings by reporters with US troops in Iraq (Michael Yon comes to mind) that we cannot trust the Iraqis not to leak US operation plans to insurgents. Any idea when that might change?

Bush needs to have some folks in his group that will sort out the facts and tell him if this police action will be better in end result than our efforts to support South Vietnam in its unsuccessful efforts against the Viet Cong and NVN. Then, it might be nice to get a bit more than slogans for public consumption.

Might want to also look at how much of the restrictions on US troop actions arise from the law of war versus rules of engagement concerns. Might ask why should our rules of engagement be asymmetrical with rules of engagement of the foe (so long as we are within the law of war). That did not happen in the US Civil War or WWII. Here, insurgents get to fight without rules of engagement, giving them a leg up. Are the restrictions similar to what we imposed in Vietnam, and will they tend to give us the same end result as in VN? If we are not prepared now to fight to the limits of what the law of war allows, doing everything legal to win, are we being fair to our troops?



I supported the war from the start, and still do, but reports from the front (via Michael Yon) that are supposed to be encouraging (per Instapundit) look troubling to me.

Chris Wilson
8.26.2005 1:57pm
bill-10k (mail) (www):
There is no difference between then and now. In WWII the Nazis fought total war, the Japanese fought total war, both continued even after the Armastice. Ever hear of Kamakazies? Well the Germans had them as well, in fact the Germans even sent planes to crash into our bombers. The German Werewovles were every bit as viscous as today's terrorist in Iraq. In Vietnam little kids and parents clutching kids would come up to US troops and detonate. Not much about war has changed.

What has changed is the people watching the war.
8.26.2005 3:02pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Chuck Hegel isn't exactly a poster child for the necessity of continuing in Iraq. And E. J. Dionne isn't exactly the one to succinctly articulate the policy either. Why should I respond to either expression of noise?

If, as Dionne suggests, history repeats itself, his ignorance of history demonstrates a very short sense of time and his place in it. We have only just gotten in to Iraq. Our American experiments with confederation and constitution took considerable time to work out.

Their instant gratification observations seem so very "now generation." As a decent yardstick, compare the depreciating tone of their remarks to those of George Washington as quoted by David McCullough: "Again and again, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance--for 'perseverance and spirit,' for 'patience and perseverance,' for 'unremitting courage and perseverance.' ... Without Washington's leadership and unrelenting perseverance, the revolution almost certainly would have failed."

Courage to persist seems to belong to those who appreciate the opportunity the coalition has offered to Iraq that is every bit as comparable to the gift 25,000 of our forefathers who passed away in the Revolutionary War gave to their children.
8.26.2005 3:03pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Might ask why should our rules of engagement be asymmetrical with rules of engagement of the foe (so long as we are within the law of war).

Because the insurgents are happy to murder civilians, and we're not?
8.26.2005 3:19pm
cfw (mail):
"There is no difference between then and now. In WWII the Nazis fought total war, the Japanese fought total war, both continued even after the Armastice. Ever hear of Kamakazies? Well the Germans had them as well, in fact the Germans even sent planes to crash into our bombers. The German Werewovles were every bit as viscous as today's terrorist in Iraq. In Vietnam little kids and parents clutching kids would come up to US troops and detonate. Not much about war has changed."

I agree that the Iraqi insurgents are waging total war plus - as bad as Japan or Germany. I am saying the US needs to get to a total effort, up to the limits ofthe law of war. That is what we (the US) did in WWII and the Civil War. Marines generally took no prisoners in fights with Japan, and Japan generally had the same approach with Marines.

That is not what the US effort looks like in Iraq. See the Yon write up about taking insurgents to court, tackling runaway inurgents instead of shooting. We pull punches in Iraq, it seems, because it is not our war, in some sense. That is troubling. Sending insurgents and troops to court hearings in Iraq is not all out war of the sort we saw in 1861-65, or 1941-45. Not shooting when shooting is called for (or allowed) by the law of war is again troubling, where the other side uses unlimited violence.

"Because the insurgents are happy to murder civilians, and we're not?" The law of war is what it is. It does not allow targeting "civilians" who are civilians. But if insurgents are in civilian clothes and one has a gun and two run, shoot all three. See the Yon article. Once male adult "civilians" drive away from troops at 105 miles per hour and refuse to stop, shoot to kill. If we wait till they buy uniforms, we are going no where we want to be. If we are not in a position to fight total war, up to the limits of the law of war, because of fear of backlash in the US, maybe we need to promptly bring the US "war" effort to a dignified conclusion.
8.26.2005 4:22pm
gr (www):
" the short-term pain of the severe 1982 recession created the economic conditions for a long-term boom."

How so? one followed the other, but following 1982 was also things like tax increases and deficit spending.
8.26.2005 9:43pm