Bush's Iraq Report Card
President Bush delivered his much awaited speech on Iraq to an audience of soldiers assembled at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
As theater, the President's was a confident rhetorical performance. But if the intent was to rebuild American support for the Iraq war by showing accountability for the missteps to date, providing a plan for success and asking for needed sacrifices, George W. Bush failed miserably:
Bush's half-hour address showed the same story-telling and disingenuousness that has characterized his presidency and so undermined American confidence in the Iraq war effort. The President's devices included:
Creating a False 9/11-Iraq Continuum
As described in the Guide to the Bush Address on Iraq, the 9/11 Commission clearly concluded that the Bush administration was dead wrong in claiming in March of 2003 that Iraq was in any way part of the war against Al Qaeda. But it is certainly the central front now. Bush repeatedly leveraged this crisis of his own creation to invent an unbroken Al Qaeda threat from the Twin Towers to Baghdad:
"The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent."
"After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy."
"The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden."
"After September the 11th, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult, and that we would prevail."
War Aims: The Fantasy of Democracy Expansion
As predicted, Bush stated that spreading democracy through the greater Middle East is the war aim of the United States. Democracy expansion was neither a primary rationale for the Iraq (see "The Myth of the Bush Doctrine") nor a realistic objective for the end-game throughout the Middle East. At this late date, success in Iraq should be seen as avoiding the creation of the next Somalia or Taliban Afghanistan.
Bush didn't stop there, moving on to gush about democracy and freedom. While we were spared his usual "God's gift to humanity" pablum, his speech featured:
"Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom. In the last few months, we've witnessed elections in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working. The rise of freedom in this vital region will eliminate the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder, and make our nation safer."
Missing in Action
What wasn't said was even more important than what was. Bush as expected refused to take ownership for the mistakes and misstatements which characterized the run-up to the war and the post-war planning. Bush made no mention of U.S. intentions relative to maintaining permanent bases in Iraq, the American role in the Iraqi oil industry, and most importantly, any signal that the U.S. would make the Israeli-Palestinian crisis its top diplomatic priority.
As for asking Americans to make the painful sacrifices to win the war, Bush could muster only this feeble plea:
"And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our Armed Forces."