[p]rogressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush’s plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. . . . Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush’s disasters — Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit — are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault. Bush will not be running again, but other conservatives will. His governing philosophy is theirs as well. We should be putting the onus where it belongs, on all conservative office holders and candidates who would lead us off the same cliff.
When Lakoff gets to Iraq, he writes that the
real motive behind the Iraq war wasn’t to stop Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, but was a test of neoconservative theory that the US military could reshape Middle East geo-politics. The manipulation and disregard of intelligence to sell the war was not incompetence, it was the product of a conservative agenda.
I'm not sure I agree with Lakoff's "real motive" analysis, but his larger point is well-taken.
I gnash my teeth and bang my steering wheel when I hear Democrats talking about how "intelligence failures" led us into Iraq. There was no intelligence failure; Bush & Co. started talking about invading Iraq shortly after taking office, well before 9/11 and well before receiving any supposedly bogus intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Still, every time Democrats use that phrase, even in denial, it strengthens that frame. As Lakoff points out this is strategically dangerous for progressives, since if the only problem that led to Iraq was "intelligence failures," well, we can remedy that and still keep a conservative Republican in office.
Instead of speaking of intelligence failures, progressives should speak again and again in terms that remind people that this administration lied to, tricked, and manipulated the country into going to war that was not in our vital national interests and which has cost us immensely. These lies, tricks and manipulations are essential to the conservative philosophy of government, which requires that the people be kept in the dark as much as possible about the government's workings. This is NOT the sort of thing that can be corrected by appointing a new, more competent director of the CIA or recruiting some new spies. Rather, it requires a wholesale shift in perspective.