FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: THE 'TRAINING' FRAME

Something very, very interesting happened, yesterday, in the President's speech at the Naval Academy: He mentioned 'September 11' just twice, but the word 'training' was used nineteen times. And in the PR-cum-propaganda pamphlet National Strategy for Victory in Iraq just...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 12/01/2005

Something very, very interesting happened, yesterday, in the President's speech at the Naval Academy:  He mentioned 'September 11' just twice, but the word 'training' was used nineteen times. 

And in the PR-cum-propaganda pamphlet National Strategy for Victory in Iraq just released by the White House, 'September 11' is mentioned just once, while the word 'training' is used eighteen times.

'Training and equipping,' 'training and mentoring', 'training the trainers'--training, training, training, training--so much training, so little 'September 11.'

With numbers like this, there is no question that the White House is trying to take control of the debate on Iraq using a new idea:  The 'Training' Frame.

But why?  Why talk about 'training' so much?

The answer to both questions is:  time. 

'Time' is the problem that President Bush is facing in his policy on Iraq.

Specifically, most Americans now want the Iraq war to be over right now.  In the minds of the the country--including a growing majority of the very voters who twice put President Bush in office--we have already spent too much time in Iraq.  The more time we are there, the more money we spend and the more people die.  In the minds of Americans more time in Iraq means more dead relatives, more debt and more anxiety about the future. 

Whether we realize it at a conscious level or not, the debate on Iraq has shifted almost entirely to a debate about 'time.' 

But because time is an abstract concept, we naturally gravitate towards concrete ways of expressing it.  When we say 'time' is 'money'--which is perhaps the most common way that Americans turn time into something comprehensible, we are framing 'time' in terms of the basic elements that fuel our economy:  work, savings, paychecks and so forth. 

In the past year, Americans have begun to think about Iraq in terms of time for a variety of reasons.

Our soldiers have been recalled for duty over and over again.  Where once their time in active fighting would have been a year, it has become multiple years.  Stop gap measures to retain forces in Iraq have made military families keenly aware of time and the dangers it presents to soldiers in Iraq.  Time for these families has been talked about in terms of 'being on the ground' and  'waiting to come home.'  Even the President has talked about soldiers who spoke with their families just days before being killed--reiterating the anxiety amongst Americans that for our soldiers in Iraq, the greater the time, the greater the likelihood that they will not return.  It is a terrible, terrible way to think about time and it weighs heavily on the minds of so many families.

More recently, however, Americans have thought about Iraq in terms of time for two reasons:  Russ Feingold and John Murtha.

Feingold has, for quite a while now, been pushing the idea that President Bush needs to set a 'timetable' for American withdrawal from Iraq.   And he has been very focused on this idea. 

Murtha, more recently, has insisted that the President's policy in Iraq can achieve nothing more with the military, and that it is time for American troops to 'redeploy,' and for a new 'strike force' to be reassembled in the region. 

Murtha and Feingold's ideas have focused Americans on the idea that our soldiers have spent too much time already in Iraq, that it is time for them to finish up their work over there and move on to new challenges.

Have these ideas about time reached President Bush and his team of advisors?

You bet they have.  For evidence, just look at the White House website, which has recently devoted entire pages to rebutting Senator Feingold's and Representative Murtha's ideas about time.

A Senator from Wisconsin and  a Representative from Pennsylvania have succeeded where others have not. Feingold and Murtha have listened to the American people's anxiety about spending too much time in Iraq, and they have framed the debate using those ideas in a way that has caught the Bush Administration off guard.

While the latest glossy pamphlet about Iraq says "Strategy for Victory" on the cover, it is in fact, a document about 'time.'

An entire section of this document is titled 'Victory will take Time.'   

"Much has been accomplished in Iraq," President Bush writes, "Yet many challenges remain." 

More than explaining what is actually happening in Iraq (the pamphlet contains almost no specific information), President Bush's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq is a textbook example of how President Bush uses PR as a set of tricks to sell the American people the very thing they do not want.

The very thing Americans do not want is for their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers--for their family members--who are serving their country in Iraq, to spend time without end in Iraq.  Because Americans now understand with a frightening clarity, that endless time is not endless in Iraq.  Endless time in Iraq, for our soldiers, really means:  to stay in Iraq until they die. 

And so, the 'challenge' that the President decided to face--as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces--was not how to figure out how to bring our family members home faster, but how to sell the American people on keeping their family members in Iraq, indefinitely--until they die.

Last night, on Hardball with Chris Matthews  John Murtha said that in his conversations with trusted American generals, he learned that it could take as long as twenty five years to train Iraq soldiers to be ready to 'stand up' on their own (no transcript available at this time).  Twenty five years is, by any stretch of the imagination, a lot of time.  That means that Iraq would be like the next Korea. It means that when President Bush talks about 'training' Iraqis to defend themselves, what he really means is establishing a permanent presence for U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

The 'training' frame is President Bush strategy for telling the American people that the U.S. military will--for all time--be in Iraq.  And so urgent is President' Bush's need to sell the American public on this idea, that he has even abandoned the 'September 11' frame--for now.

Will the American public be hoodwinked by this cynical sales pitch from President Bush--this attempt to sell the public a lemon of a military policy by framing it in talk of 'training'? 

Doubtful.

The idea that more time in Iraq means more death and more debt is no longer an idea.  It is something we feel in our stomachs and in our hearts. 

There will be a strident few who will respond to the President's 'training' frame, but of late, the White House PR campaigns on Iraq seem to be stirring up a pot of supporters that is increasingly empty--more strident tones, but fewer and fewer numbers.

For the rest of us, who are looking for ways to bring the mistaken policy on Iraq to an end, we need only speak from our hearts. 

Rather than talk about 'training' as the President would have us, we should speak instead of our concern that more time in Iraq will bring more death and more debt--more lost loved ones--and more financial hardship for our children's future. 

Our honesty, and the clear leadership of Russ Feingold and John Murtha, is already framing the debate. 

© 2005 Jeffrey Feldman

© Jeffrey Feldman 2005, Frameshop

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