The President hit all the right notes. He was very sober and serious, and spoke plainly. He emphasized that in the end the success or failure of the effort to transform Iraq will be up to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people. The US will help, but it cannot do the job alone and its patience is not endless. Mentioning the bipartisan committee, and its proposal by Senator Lieberman, was also a good move. The President was also right to mention the need to expand troop levels in our armed forces. Finally, the clear warnings to Syria and Iran to cease and desist their efforts to sow chaos in Iraq were a delightful contrast to the call from the Iraq Study Group to open negotiations with those odious regimes.
The President was clearly speaking to the Iraqis and the Arab world almost as much as to the American people. Witness that he never mentioned the name of one nation in the region—Israel—even when he mentioned the desire for peace on the part of people in the Palestinian Territories. When he mentioned the continuing determination of the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program, he spoke of “working with others,” which is vague enough to mean only the diplomatic efforts by the EU, Russia and Turkey, or to allude to military cooperation with Israel. The decision to not mention Israel has two purposes: (1) to avoid giving Iran and Arab radicals an easy target and diversion, by accusing the U.S. of allying with Israel to dominate Iraq; and (2) to implicitly reject the Iraq Study Group attempt to tie the success or failure of the Iraqi struggle to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. However, Arabs, including the leaders of Saudi Arabia and their spokespeople in our country, such as James Baker and Jimmy Carter, will make the linkage even if the President avoids the “I” word.
As I write, I am listening to the Democrats’ response. Senator Durbin sounds like he is asking the Iraqi government to do everything that the President has required of them, but without any additional US help. Perhaps I am deluding myself, in view of the recent election and polls, but I don’t think that the Democrats have helped themselves much with that stance. Assuming that the Iraqi government is capable of accomplishing the benchmarks mentioned by both the President and Senator Durbin, but requires the help of the additional US troops, is Senator Durbin saying that we should deny that assistance and let the Iraqi government fail? I also don’t believe that at the end of the day the Democrat-controlled Congress will dare cut off funds, at least not this year. They would be more than happy to portray the war as the sole responsibility of the Bush Administration, going into the Presidential election.
Four questions predominate: (1) Why didn't we do this back in 2003-2004, when it would have been so much easier, both in dealing with the Iraqis and in terms of American public opinion? (2) Has the President swayed the public enough to allow him this last chance to set things right? (3) Is 21,500 enough additional troops to make a difference? (4) Ultimately, are the Iraqi people willing to fight for a stable democratic nation, in which power and wealth are shared by Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds? Or will they continue let their ethnic, religious and clan identities govern their fate, in which case the descent into chaos and civil war will continue?
Lowell adds: If we knew the answer to Ralph's questions we might be be relaxing on our deck overlooking the ocean in Bora Bora right now.
I called the Hugh Hewitt show this evening and compared the current situation to 1864, when the Copperhead Democrats, or "Peace Democrats," compared Lincoln to a baboon and thought he might even be insane for insisting on his failed policy of saving the Union. They wanted peace -- a settlement-- now.
See Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals for fascinating insight into Lincoln's political genius in dealing with that problem. But it wasn't just genius that saved Lincoln-- it was Lincoln's generals, Grant and Sherman-- especially Sherman-- and the sacrifice of thousands of human lives. The price was horrible and included the city of Atlanta as it was then known.
The parallels are obvious, no? Bush is no Lincoln and the War in Iraq is not the Civil War. But I think there are two lessons he can learn from 1864:
1. Bush's position is founded on principle, and he needs to adhere to that principle to the bitter end, just as Lincoln did. Bush also needs to do that in a way that does not come across as mere stubbornness-- something he's not good at because he's such a poor communicator. Hugh said he hopes the needed eloquence will come from General David Petraus. I also hope so.
2. Bush drives me crazy when he continually defers to the generals on the ground. I understand why he does that, but he's the Commander in Chief, for heaven's sake! If Lincoln
had simply sat back and did what the likes of Meade and McClellan advised, Richmond would still be the capital of much more than Virginia. Figure out what is going on, Mr. President; educate yourself and run the war!
The full text of the President's speech is here.
Update: Extending our comparison to the Civil War, Conservative Christian posts an "editorial" that might have been written by a member of today's MSM in 1862.