THE BLOG
01/16/2007 08:23 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Bush Who Cried Wolf

In his speech announcing an escalation in Iraq President Bush relied upon a familiar refrain: "Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States... Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people." Bush suggested Al Qaeda leads the Iraqi resistance to the occupation and, therefore, if America leaves without achieving "victory," Al Qaeda will establish a caliphate in Iraq. Once again, Bush cried Wolf.

The Aesop fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, tells of a shepherd who amused himself by periodically crying, "wolf," which caused nearby villagers to run to his pasture to help him. One day, a real wolf threatened his flock; however, this time when the shepherd cried "wolf," no one in the village believed him and all his sheep died. President Bush continues to cry wolf. The danger is that one day he will tell the truth, but no one will believe him.

In his escalation speech, Bush tried to paint the conflict in Iraq as the most important component in his "war" on terror. He argued we must fight terrorists there or we will have to fight them here. The President referred to "Al Qaeda" ten times and "terrorist" nine times; used these words more than "extremist" or "insurgent." However, the latest statistics from Iraq indicate that there are approximately 1350 "foreign fighters" in Iraq (only some of whom are members of Al Qaeda), while there are an estimated 25,000 insurgents and 50,000 members of Shiite Militias. Bush cried wolf: he misrepresented the nature of the conflict in Iraq. Writing in The New York Times security expert Anthony Cordesman observed, "Iraq is only one element in the war on terrorism. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the failure to suppress Al Qaeda globally are probably of equal importance, and the Bush administration seems to have no overall strategy for America's 'other war' in Afghanistan or the broader war on terrorism."

After six years of the Bush Administration and almost fours years of the occupation, most Americans realize Bush has been crying wolf. The latest AP-Ipsos poll found that 70 percent of respondents oppose sending more troops to Iraq. The same poll found the President's approval ratings have fallen to 32 percent--a new low.

Despite his sagging approval ratings, the President appears determined to press on with his flawed Iraq policy. Everything we've learned about Bush suggests that he will stick to his guns, continue with the occupation until the end of his term. This leaves the opposition, Democrats and sane Republicans, no choice but to begin to defund the Administration's wasteful, dangerous Iraq program.

However, there is a dangerous side affect of Bush's practice of crying wolf in Iraq: it is affecting public sentiment about the "war on terror" in general. The most recent Rasmussen Poll indicated that only 33 percent of Americans believe the United States is winning the "war" on terror. Bush keeps saying that the occupation in Iraq is the primary component in his "war." Americans see that it is failing and assume the larger campaign against terrorism is going badly, too

Writing in the latest New Yorker Jeffrey Goldberg observes "Bush has done something that would have seemed impossible in late 2001: he has turned the fight against terrorism into a partisan issue." Goldberg notes that the President's conduct of his "war" on terror has deeply divided the electorate: Republicans, Bush loyalists, continue to press for the destruction of Al Qaeda even if it means more troops in Iraq and military action against Iran. Democrats, Bush opponents, have grown tired of troop casualties and human rights' abuses; they want our troops to come home and US militarism to cease. Goldberg implies that Democrats have grown tired of Bush's "war" on terror in general and, therefore, are not interested in pursuing Osama bin Laden and bringing the remnants of Al Qaeda to justice.

Aesop's fable teaches when liars tell the truth, they are not believed. George W. Bush had cried wolf so often that it has caused a majority of Americans to distrust everything he says: even the necessity of a global campaign against terrorism.

Nonetheless, terrorists continue to threaten the United States. The campaign against terrorism needs to be retooled, not abandoned. As Bush opponents flock to the Democratic Party, there's a danger that their anti-Iraq sentiment will generalize: cause Democratic leaders to scale back the campaign against terrorism and promote a new American isolationism. That would be a tragic mistake. Democrats must not cede the domain of national security to Republicans. To prevent this from happening, Democratic leadership needs to do more than simply tighten the military purse strings and force the Bush Administration to abandon its ill-considered escalation in Iraq. Democrats need to propose a coherent alternative vision of the campaign against terrorism: a vision that gets us out of Iraq, brings Al Qaeda to justice, and defends America.