John McCain has a daunting task ahead of him. He believes deeply in securing a victory in Iraq, at a time when the American people’s support for the war is at an all time low. He believes deeply that Islamic extremism is the transcendent issue of our time, at a time when Americans are preoccupied with economic woes. He believes deeply in cleaning up the environment, at a time when Americans are facing the prospect of $5 a gallon gas.
One of the hurdles that John McCain will have to overcome is that of credibility. The Iraq War was sold to the American people on dubious grounds, some of which have since been proven to be untrue.
It now seems likely that Saddam Hussein was not sitting on stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, even though he had previously used such weapons against Iran and against the Kurds. It now seems likely that Saddam Hussein was not in cahoots with Al Qaeda, even though Al Qaeda has since inflitrated the conflict. And while the Bush administration has touted the idea of spreading freedom and democracy throughout Iraq, as a model for the whole Middle East, such an outcome, considering present realities on the ground, is far from being realized.
Despite these setbacks, one thing that John McCain has going for him is the intuitive wisdom of the American people. Americans are not stupid. Between the lines, Americans have come to the realization that the Iraq War, despite all that has been said, is mostly about oil. There are plenty of hot spots around the world where America could choose to fight, and to spread democracy, but she chooses, not coincidentally, to fight in the Middle East, where so much of her oil comes from. It is not the case that the U.S. was after Iraq’s oil. It is more about wanting to secure that region to assure an uninterrupted supply of oil, because for now, at least, oil is the lifeline of the engine that drives the American, and Western, economies.
And now, with $5 a gallon gas in the offing, Americans can easily see that what happens in the Middle East directly affects their pocketbooks, and their way of life. And with 9/11, Americans could also see that the threat of ideological extremism is real, and that there are people out there plotting the demise of America in particular, and of the West in general; people who are emboldened by ideological conviction, and who are not particularly deterred by the prospect of death.
And yet, even though most Americans perceive what John McCain perceives: the need to secure their oil supply, the need to switch over to green energy, and the need to deal effectively with extremism, still, this realization, in an of itself, is not exactly the best way to move the electorate to your way of thinking. More is needed to close the deal. When you’re asking people to put blood and treasure on the line, you better have something more to say than, “We’re fighting a war on terror,” or even worse, “We’re fighting a war to keep oil prices in line.”
So in effect, there is currently a disconnect between our real reasons for being in Iraq, and the pronouncements being made by our leaders. And the reason for this disconnect is that saying the truth may not be palatable to the American mind, or so it is assumed, even though Americans know full well that a lot of our preoccupation with the Middle East is about oil, and the need to secure our access to it, at a reasonable price; because in a very real sense, our way of life depends on the availability of oil.
John McCain often takes pride in his reputation for “talking straight” to the American people. It’s time to do just that, and to level with the electorate, but to do it in a way that inspires a sense of hope in things to come. John McCain could say, for example, that while he remains committed to weaning us from our dependence on foreign oil, by promoting green technology and domestic energy production, that until this is achieved, we need to secure our oil supply in the Middle East, because a failure to do so will threaten our way of life. It is straight talk to say that we need oil to live as we do, and that we have no choice but to protect our interests in that regard.
John McCain could also point out that the ideological extremists have their agendas in full working order, and that it becomes incumbent on us, therefore, to oppose them with all our strength, and with all our might. The writing is on the wall, so to speak, that they are fully committed to our demise. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. If the ideological extremists win, it will be at the expense of giving up our way of life, the life we have fought so very hard for, so many times before.
But how would you convey such a message to Americans who are war weary, and who are fed up with the past several years? The answer for John McCain is not unlike the answer for Barack Obama: you have no choice but to sell America on a Vision of Hope.
He could say something along these lines: “The global threats we face: from ideological extremism, from the destruction of the environment, and from the repercussions of extreme poverty, are best handled by selling each other on a Vision of Hope. We will not allow the extremists to set the agenda for our future as a nation. We have better ideas than they have, and more resources to put on the table. We will beat them at their own game and marginalize them in the eyes of their own people. We will use a new ideological framework, an Ideology of Common Sense, to speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. We will invest in one another to create good paying jobs which inspire a sense of hope, which protect the environment, and which neutralize extremist thinking. We will use Ideology and Investment to sell people the world over on a Vision of Hope. We will sustain the hope with a serious commitment to Public Diplomacy. And when necessary, and it will be necessary my friends, we will fight, and fight hard, against the forces of extremism, but we will also position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We will raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. We are not fighting a “war against terror.” We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There’s a big difference.”
Just as Selling a Vision of Hope could give substance to Barack Obama’s call for hope and change, by moving him a little bit to the right, so too could it give substance to John McCain’s call to stay the course, by moving him a little bit to the left. The American people, for their part, continue to remain somewhere in the middle, somewhere between extremes, somewhere where truth resides, and common sense holds sway.
For more information, please visit our website www.sellingavisionofhope.org