Republican Stumbles in Selling the War

While the White House pushes to shore up support for the Iraq War — with all hands on deck to campaign for more time for the surge strategy to succeed — the Bush administration may be undercutting its own case with its own words.

At least that seemed to be the case Thursday when the U.S. ambassador to Iraq testified at the Senate. The man who is supposed to be in charge of diplomacy in Iraq was, in the view of many senators and observers, decidedly undiplomatic.

"We are buying time. We're buying time at the cost of the lives of our soldiers and of Iraqi soldiers," Ryan Crocker said.

Did Crocker really mean to tell senators that U.S. troops were dying to buy time for the Iraqi government?

The comment hardly exists in a vacuum. White House spokesman Tony Snow glibly defended the Iraqi Parliament's monthlong August vacation — too glibly for some.

"It looks like they may, yeah, just like the U.S. Congress is," Snow said July 13, adding, "You going to try and talk them out of that? You know, it's 130 degrees in Baghdad in August."

Of course, those flaming temperatures will affect U.S. troops in addition to Iraqi politicians. Snow later took the remark back.

Sometimes the remarks are all too human. This week Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cried while discussing a fallen Marine at a dinner for the Marine Corps Association.

"Every evening I write notes to families of young Americans like Doug Zebniac," Gates said while choking up. "For you and for me, they're not names on a press release or numbers updated on a Web site. They are our country's sons and daughters."

President Bush has also had his struggles, ranging from "Bring 'em on" — cocky bravado he later said he regretted showing — to more recently his lowering of the bar about what constitutes success in war-torn Iraq.

"Success is not no violence," the president said. "There are parts of our own country that you know have got, you know, a certain level of violence to it."

It's not that Democrats have not stumbled; they've had their fair share of flubs, too.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., apologized for going too far when condemning prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers.

"You would most certainly believe this must have happened by Nazis," he said in 2005.

But Democrats are not trying to sell the war; they're following public sentiment in trying to withdraw U.S. troops.

The Bush administration has the tougher job: pleading for patience. That's why its words might matter more and why a gaffe can have serious consequences.