The Public Opinion War

Bill Quick is taking the WaPo to task for trying to change the character of the debate over war:
…WaPo is still trying to shift the debate from one in which it is incumbent upon Saddam to prove he has no WMD and is not violating previous resolutions, to one in which it is incumbent upon the United States to prove that Saddam does have WMD, and is violating UN resolutions.
Bill has staked out a firm position on Bush’s wobbliness, and I’m glad he’s done so — while he hasn’t convinced me, I’m still listening, and I certainly have to admit unease at how long we’ve waited to begin the ‘real war’.
I think in this case he may be correct about the WaPo’s motivations, but that doesn’t necessarily invalidate their point. It is certainly right to say that, in moral and U.N.-legal terms (I know, that last bit is an oxymoron), the burden is on Saddam to prove himself in compliance.
But concluding that Saddam has failed to do so and that action against him is morally or legally justified is a very different thing than saying that the United States should send the men and women of its armed forces into harm’s way to stop him. For that, the American public must be convinced the cause is justified — the argument that Saddam has failed to prove his innocence is just not going to be sufficient.
I think we’ve already got plenty of evidence to justify action, and I also recognize that there’s a decent percentage of the population that will simply never be convinced that military force is justified. But what I expect to see is a variation on Bush’s stellar U.N. speech last year in his State of the Union address — a matter-of-fact litany of all the cease-fire violations Hussein has committed over the years, probably mixed in with some (hopefully dramatic) new evidence of his weapons programs. And of course: a reminder of the horrifying consequences that we now cannot avoid understanding can result when powerful madmen with a hatred of America are allowed to go unchecked.
And I’ll make a prediction: if he delivers that speech, or something like it, U.S. popular support for a war will skyrocket. Partly because war truly is the sensible option at this point — and partly because I think deep down, Americans know that this war is going to happen; that our President is firmly convinced it is necessary; that the troops are already in place, and that no protest on the Mall is going to stop it. And while the ANSWER crowd will continue to fight, most Americans will realize that the threshold has already been crossed: we’re already committed to this war.
And one last reason why the tide will turn: unless I’m misremembering, Bush has never made a direct appeal to the American people to support an attack on Iraq. This will be the first time, and I expect it will be a powerful statement. Because the American people want to be asked. Part of the reason why support has not been stellar is that many of those on the fence are waiting to hear it from Bush’s own lips. They want to hear him make his case, and they want to be asked by their President for support.
Once he does so, the public-support war will be all over — at least until the fighting starts — and the ANSWER crowd might as well go on vacation for a few weeks.
PS – Speaking of evidence, see today’s LA Times for yet another example. Courtesy o’ Slate’s Today’s Papers.