JEFFREY FELDMAN'S FRAMESHOP
The first and most noticeable framing issue in the ISG Report is the almost complete absence of the word "freedom."
Whereas "freedom" has been repeated and repeated by President Bush just about every time he talks about his policy in Iraq, the new report from the Iraq Study Group avoids this word.
Instead, they talk about "stability" -- a word repeated over 50 times in the new report.
Bush's "Freedom" Frame
President Bush uses the word "freedom" obsessively when talking about Iraq. This one example from the White House web site Fact Sheet: Democracy in Iraq demonstrates this frame in action:
The United States Is Helping Iraqis Build Inclusive Democratic Institutions That Will Protect The Interests Of All The Iraqi People. By helping Iraqis build a democracy, America will win over those who doubted they had a place in the new Iraq, and we will undermine the terrorists and Saddamists, gain an ally in the War on Terror, inspire reformers across the Middle East, and make the American people more secure. Democracy takes different forms in different cultures, but successful free societies are built on common foundations of rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free economy, and freedom of worship.
Why are we fighting in Iraq? We are fighting for freedom. Or, as President Bush put it in his since-forgotten 2006 National Strategy for Fighting Terrorism, "The ongoing fight for freedom in Iraq has been twisted by terrorist propaganda as a rallying cry." Freedom, freedom and freedom. If we had to sum up President Bush's policy on Iraq in one word, it would be:
What does "freedom" mean to Bush? Nobody knows. It certainly does not mean "security" or "safety" as Donald Rumsfeld used to remind us. People who are "free" in Bush's worldview are, among other things, free to kill each other. How one goes about distinguishing death caused by freedom versus death caused by the absence of freedom -- nobody has ever made it that far in the discussion with Bush, nor will they anytime soon.
The ISG "Stability" Frame
The ISG has jettisoned Bush's buzzword in favor of the more heavy- footed and pragmatic word "stability." This quote from the Executive Summary of the ISG Report demonstrates how "stability" is used:
In this report, we make a number of recommendations for actions to be taken in Iraq, the United States, and the region. Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another. If they are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America's credibility, interests, and values will be protected.
In subsequent uses of the word, ISG talks about achieving, long-term, working for, supporting, undermining, undercutting, restoring, providing and regional "stability." The big picture for the ISG is a decidedly non-ideological. Moving forward for the ISG is not about spreading or advancing "freedom" -- as President Bush has said so many times -- but about restoring stability.
Metaphoric Split: Viral Logic vs. Builder's Logic
An initial reading of the ISG, in other words, demonstrates a very deep conceptual break not just from President Bush's policy in Iraq, but from the underlying frame foreign policy agenda.
Up to this point, President Bush has advanced a "viral logic" wherein he talks about U.S. foreign policy as the vector or viral agent injected into a problematic part of the world in order to "spread" Democracy. Once we put a name Bush's "viral logic," we can indeed see that President Bush talks about the changes in the Middle East through an extended metaphor of "spreading" and "catching" freedom. In President Bush's ideal view of foreign policy, democracy radiates out from U.S. military actions, catches on when people come into contact with it, and the more people have it, the more it spreads to people who have been otherwise resistant to it. Freedom is the virus and the U.S. military is the carrier.
The contrasting view in the ISG is a "builder's logic" where U.S. foreign policy in the broad sense is talked about as a construction team sent into rebuild or repair weak and unstable structures. And again, once we put a name on the ISG's "builder's logic," we can indeed see that the report talks about the necessary changes in the Middle east through an extended metaphor of "constructing" and "strengthening" stability. In this view, the new Iraq policy cannot simply focus on one spot and radiate outwards. It must take a regional view and then set about repairing all parts of the foundation on which that regional stability will rest. Without a solid foundation, stability is impossible. Stability is the end goal and U.S. diplomacy is the construction worker.
As always, framing is not just about messages and facts, but about the broad logic that shapes the debate.
And so, as we listen to the ISG debate unfold, one thing progressives need to consider is not just whether President Bush is adopting specific policy recommendations, but whether he is stuck inside his "viral logic" or moving over to the new, more regional "builder's logic" put forward by the report.
JEFFREY FELDMAN'S FRAMESHOP
Jeffrey Feldman's new book on framing and progressive politics is available for pre-order: Framing the Debate (in stores April 1, 2007). Support progressive publishing: reserve your copy right now online.
© 2006 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop.