With the US elections coming up, and the Bush regime teetering on the edge of the worst mid-term defeat since the 1960s, George W’s spin doctors have realised that they need to stop digging in the hole marked “Iraq”. The war is costing Republicans votes hand over fist across America. The tactic of labelling anyone refusing to “stay the course” as a friend to terrorists and sectarian killers hasn’t worked.
You can say what you like about right-wingers, but they certainly know how to spin their way out of trouble. Got an unpopular line? Change it! So yesterday, the Republican rolled out their new, voter friendly message: “adapt and change to win”. No more insisting that the US will “stay the course”, no more insisting that opponents of the war want to “cut and run”. So brazen is the about-turn that Bush even told one interviewer: “We’ve never been ‘stay the course…'”.
Which brings us to Hilary Benn, put up to defend the government’s Iraq policy on this morning’s Today programme. Benn, who clearly hadn’t read the morning memo from the RNC, told John Humphrys that the Brits “would stay the course” until “the job is done”. Hopefully not on our own!
However, despite his hard-line language, he conceded that security situation on the ground is dreadful: “It’s grim, and there’s no point pretending otherwise, particularly in those parts of the country where a lot of violence is taking place – although it does tend to be concentrated in certain parts of Iraq,” he said.
He also rebuked opponents of war for their failure to criticise the insurgency and warned them that “there is no alternative” to the government’s policy. Could make for an interesting conversation next time his father drops round for tea, though at least he didn’t go as far as Adam Ingram and call them “the pro-dictator coalition”.
Hilary Benn’s apparent decision to stand in either (or both) the leader or deputy elections means people will start paying more attention to what he says and does. This could give him problems if his superiors decide that he is the best way to sell their worst mistakes.
The Democrats have launched a new ad criticising “stay the course”. They’re arguing for “a change in policy” not a “change in rhetoric”.