Ira Chernus has rightly identified the need for progressives to an alternative narrative if we are to extricate ourselves expeditiously from the ongoing mess in Iraq. As he describes our present drifting predicament:
[…T]he story of the 2006 election isn't over yet. It's like one of those movies on DVD with several alternative endings. You get to choose the one you want. [….Bush] seemed to confirm the media's story of the election as a negative verdict on "staying the course" in Iraq….Of course, that narrative does have a good dose of truth in it. Most Americans do now oppose Bush's Iraq policy and particularly its implementation. But the Democratic win does not mean that voters simply saw through the administration's lies and now demand the true story. They just want a new story. [….]But the Democrats as a party have not yet come close to agreeing on a single, clear alternative policy -- no less a story to tell about it. They've merely played on our cognitive dissonance about the Bush administration's losing war by telling us what they are against. [….]
Chernus is right about the need for a new story in order to move forward:
[...T]he election results hint at a public hungry for a new story about the war. And George Bush's day-after response -- sacking Rumsfeld -- shows that, however reluctantly, he will change his story in response to voter disaffection. The public may be able to force policy change too, but only if there is a compelling new story that demands a new policy.
He doesn’t hold out hope for this new story emanating from either of the major political parties. Instead, he has dropped it in the lap of an unlikely savior:
This is a job for the peace movement, whose role has always been to articulate alternatives. Now is the time to offer a new narrative using an alternative recipe, the same one that the peace movement has always used: Take big dollops of truth and moral compassion in equal measure and stir.But Chernus has it wrong in thinking that the peace movement will be able to set us on a course that will be to progressives’ advantage over the long term.
The peace movement as a force has been marginalized by the media (despite its many sincere adherents) and by all the powers that be in Washington. The purity of the positions that traditional peace lovers tend to embrace might rightly be resisted by many of good will who see the complexity of the situation, which mixes the occupation of Iraq with nuclear weapons posturing in surrounding countries, China’s hunger for energy sources, Peak Oil, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, Osama bin Laden, Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, etc., etc., etc. In this situation, pure peace-people will find it hard to be true to their traditional values and come up with a viable alternative and, if they do, the source of the message will unfortunately be discredited.
However, the need for a new narrative is a great opportunity for the progressive movement as a whole. This is the time that progressive voices representing multiple perspectives, not just peace, need to articulate and advance an alternative narrative. We need a narrative that represents the values of environmentalists, women’s rights advocates, those who oppose corruption in government and overweaning corporate power, labor, and civil rights advocates, all of whom have a stake in what’s happening in Iraq. We need a narrative that not only can gain more supporters right away for a new direction, but one that can strengthen a progressive vision that can serve as a foundation for preventing future conflicts of this type and for opening doors to solving related social problems.
The task of coming up with a creative alternative narrative should rest with a progressive infrastructure organization, not limited to a single issue, that is willing and able to develop various narrative options and and test them for effectiveness before widespread promulgation.
This is not the time for hunches or multiple competing stories—it’s the time for a disciplined, professional approach. And the sooner that process can start, the better.