Bush “Victory Strategy” A Reaffirmation — But Not Quite
President George W. Bush proved a lot of pundits wrong with his highly awaited “Victory Strategy” speech yesterday. The full text is here.
He proved pundits wrong who predicted it would be a watershed speech announcing the beginning of a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. We wrote about that speculation here.
He proved analysts wrong who predicted that poll numbers dropping more steadily than the resale value of a Michael Jackson CD collection at a synagogue yard sale meant Bush would change the tone of his defense of the war and criticism of war critics.
He apparently proved pundits wrong who suggested he wasn’t on the same wavelength as the military.
And he proved analysts wrong who suggested that he will have to go into a defensive stance on the war.
Instead, Mr. Bush offered a somewhat similar boilerplate speech to what he has given before but this time with a new banner and new slogan in the background to underline his main thesis.
The overall backdrop was a speech to a military audience. But this may prove to be a double edged sword for GWB: on one hand, it underscores his role as a wartime President; on the other, his major policy speeches before military audiences are starting to seem a bit reminiscent of Lyndon B. Johnson at the height of the Vietnam War, who made many key speeches at military installations, partly out of fears that he’d be met with screeching anti-war demonstrators.
But, overall the “reviews” of Bush’s speech were decidedly mixed: war supporters didn’t see their worst nightmare materialize (he didn’t do a speech setting in motion a pullout) and war critics were left as unsatisfied as ever. CNN reports:
President Bush countered diminishing support for the U.S.-led Iraq war on Wednesday in a speech outlining what he believes must be accomplished before withdrawing any forces.
The president did not satisfy critics who’ve called for a definitive timetable for troops to pull out, saying it would send the wrong message to terrorists and certain conditions must be met first.
“As Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop level in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists,” Bush said in his address before students at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
He rejected calls by some members of Congress that U.S. forces withdraw immediately.
“Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorist tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder and invite new attacks on America,” Bush said.
“To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander-in-chief.”
Of course, war critics — and even many who support the war — will hotly dispute that someone who seeks a change in policy, or a better policy, is therefore “running” away from bomber or assassins or in any way seeking to vindicate them. Statements such as that essentially keep the war as a red hot, polarizing issue.
On the other hand, Bush did NOT do what some pundits predicted, as miliblogger Citizen Smash, the aptly named IndePundit, notes. And Smash points out the importance of Bush’s stance:
This passage illustrates why so many military personnel hold such a strong affection for this Commander-in-Chief. He might wobble and waver on domestic issues like Social Security reform and Supreme Court nominees, but on national security he’s solid as a rock. The last thing we want is a Commander-in-Chief who talks tough, but doesn’t have the backbone to stay in the fight until the job is done.
Bush isn’t backing down. Not. One. Inch.
A more accurate evaluation of GWB’s determination will be possible by this summer — on the eve of the 2006 mid-term elections. Will the U.S. have truly “stayed the course?” Or as months go on will administration officials proclaim progress and without using the word withdrawal, start a withdrawal.
That would be akin to giving an amnesty as part of immigration reform but not using the word “amnesty” — not that the administration would ever do that.
Press reporting and media pundit comment have been mixed. For instance, Newsday said thsi:
For a man trying to convince Americans that he has a way out of Iraq, President George W. Bush had an unusual way Wednesday of going about it.
He offered no timetables for withdrawal, no new benchmarks for when that could start, and not a word about a possible drawdown next year, as others in his administration have hinted at in recent days.
In fact, Bush even appeared to raise the bar on what it would take to bring American troops out of Iraq — saying he would settle for nothing less than “complete victory,” something he admitted would be hard to detect and harder to achieve.
It has been one of the vexing questions of this war — what will victory look like against a seemingly implacable insurgency no less deadly today than a year ago?
Bush offered his own definition yesterday — an Iraq that is “peaceful, united, stable and secure,” according to his 35-page White House strategy document. Right now, most American generals probably would settle for just one of those, let alone all four.
The LA Times sees the speech as leaving the door open to withdrawals:
But Bush on Wednesday defined victory only in broad terms that seemed to open the way for the administration to withdraw large numbers of troops even as the insurgency and political instability continue in Iraq….
….By mingling declarations of resolve and talk of withdrawals, Bush offered the ingredients that may appeal to both supporters and critics of the war. But while GOP allies quickly praised what Bush called his “comprehensive strategy,” critics were not satisfied.
In another piece, the LAT says Bush’s speech put him on the same wavelength as military bigwigs:
In many ways, Bush’s speech was an artful tightrope walk, one in which he forcefully rejected his critics’ calls for an immediate troop pullout — or even a timetable for one — and repeated the applause lines so cherished by his core supporters…
Yet, behind these words, Bush’s glowing assessment of the progress of Iraqi forces provided an answer to two of his most crucial political constituencies: his core supporters desperate for reassurances that a plan existed for the victory he has so often promised, and the growing number of supporters-turned skeptics who now demand a viable exit strategy.
After months of a lingering disconnect between the White House and senior military commanders, Bush’s comments also seemed to bring him into line not just with America’s military, but with the rest of his administration.
Repeatedly, military commanders have made the case that only a draw-down of U.S. troops would make Iraqi forces take control of their nation’s security. They also argue that the very presence of American troops — viewed as occupiers by most Iraqis — helps drive the insurgency. On Wednesday, Bush finally seemed to accept the argument.
That’s also part of the argument John Murtha — the one labeled a “coward” in the House — made, if you recall.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post argued that if a speech was supposed to change minds, this one didn’t:
Instead of sticking to general statements of resolve as in the past, Bush offered specific examples of what he called progress in building an Iraqi army that can take over the fight from U.S. troops. And in a rare move for a president loath to admit mistakes, he admitted some without ever using the word, granting that “we’ve faced some setbacks” and that “we learned from our early experiences.”
But broadly Bush gave no ground to critics who want a major course change, and the plan he released yesterday offered nothing new substantively. Short of changing conditions on the ground, Bush faces enormous challenges in turning around public attitudes on the war. The American people have grown increasingly sour on Iraq in public polls, and most no longer approve of the way the president is handling the war.
“That’s the trick for the president — he has to turn around public opinion when he’s at a low point in the polls,” said John Weaver, a political strategist for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “What they’ve got to do is win this argument and correct the misinformation that’s out there about what’s going on in Iraq and do so while leveling with the American people that it’s going to be a long, hard slog.”
And the New York Times? In an editorial it gave Bush two thumbs down — and perhaps a middle finger up as well:
…Americans didn’t need to be convinced of Mr. Bush’s commitment to his idealized version of the war. They needed to be reassured that he recognized the reality of the war.
Instead, Mr. Bush traveled 32 miles from the White House to the Naval Academy and spoke to yet another of the well-behaved, uniformed audiences that have screened him from the rest of America lately. If you do not happen to be a midshipman, you’d have to have been watching cable news at midmorning on a weekday to catch him…
…. Mr. Bush hates comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. But after watching the president, we couldn’t resist reading Richard Nixon’s 1969 Vietnamization speech. Substitute the Iraqi constitutional process for the Paris peace talks, and Mr. Bush’s ideas about the Iraqi Army are not much different from Nixon’s plans – except Nixon admitted the war was going very badly (which was easier for him to do because he didn’t start it), and he was very clear about the risks and huge sacrifices ahead. A president who seems less in touch with reality than Richard Nixon needs to get out more.
And this from Newsweek:
The critical problem for the president is whether the American people believe him. Along with the loss of credibility in the run-up to the invasion, the White House is also suffering from propaganda fatigue on the reconstruction. There have been so many premature declarations of progress, and so many major speeches on Iraq, that this moment sounds much like every other. The challenge now for President Bush lies as much at home as it does in Iraq: to convince Americans that heâ€™s being realistic this time without conceding that he hyped the story many times before.
In the end, perhaps that’s where George Bush is: he already has the CHOIR on his side. Now he needs to win over the CONGREGATION that has begun to stray. Did this speech do that?
UPDATE: And the spin is on:
John Kerry and Mary Matalin, appearing separately on TODAY, already sparred over Bushâ€™s speech and the White Houseâ€™s strategy for victory in Iraq, and weâ€™re sure to see even more of that later today. Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman sent an email to GOP supporters, urging them to write letters to the editor to spread the word about Bushâ€™s speech.
MOST WEBLOGS COMMENTED ON THIS SPEECH. HERE IS A DIVERSE CROSS SECTION OF OPINIONS. THESE ARE EXCERPTS. WE URGE YOU TO CLICK ON THE LINKS TO READ THE ENTIRE POSTS:
—The Talking Dog says the Baathists would like to keep the US there (read his whole post):
So they have little to lose by keeping up their attacks… largely because it keeps us around…..Let me repeat the irony here: by making life a living hell for American ground troops, and by forcing the right-wing to spout the “dissent is treason” line all over again (“we won’t cut and run” and similar horse-s***), the Baathists know that they are extending our presence in Iraq (because it’s simply not stable enough for us to leave.) Is there a solution?
Of course there is! It’s… an artificial timetable for withdrawal… nothing at all like the 30-35% troop reduction over the next ten months (that will actually happen) of course. Nothing like that at all. Because Amurrkins don’t cut and run, no sirree. NO. We’ll be having some troop redeployments, of course. But only because now the Iraqi units are fully trained and are able to assume the duties of securing their country’s future. Yes, that’s the ticket.
President Bush’s speech at the Naval Academy today was a brilliant exposition of his strategy in Iraq and in the war on terror. It was thematically similar to a number of other excellent speeches he has given over the past four years, many of which we have quoted and linked to, but it included a more detailed analysis of the progress of Iraqi units in taking over the defense of their country than we have seen before. It is a little-known fact, I’m afraid, that, in a series of speeches extending over a period of years, President Bush has articulated his policy vision more consistently and more eloquently than any President since Lincoln. His speeches have, for the most part, gone unheard, unread, and uncovered by the mainstream media. Let’s hope this one is different in that regard.
—Ann Althouse: “Speaking of the troops fighting in Iraq, he says we must “complete their mission.” “Mission” is a much stronger expression than Senator Clinton’s “what we started.” Do you think we should complete our mission or finish what we started? Or do you think they’re the same thing? I don’t.”
—The Glittering Eye has a long, thoughtful post that can’t be quoted but must be read in its entirety.
—California Yankee: “The speech was exactly right. Don’t let the negative main stream media form your opinion for you. If you were unable to listen to the speech I encourage you to read it, listen to it or watch it.”
What’s increasingly clear is that the administration is going to begin withdrawing troops, probably beginning with a “downsurge” of the “upsurged” pre-Iraqi-election deployment, by the beginning of the year. Larger withdrawals will happen at some propitious moment next year, unless all hell breaks loose, more because of internal military manpower limitations than because of any real strategy. The Pentagon has already begun shifting towards a less visible role for U.S. troops in going after the insurgents, as administration critics have been demanding for some time now. And at every step of the way, the Bushies will relentlessly claim this is how it was all planned to work out from the beginning, and that Bush’s Democratic critics are the primary obstacle to the task of achieving benchmarks for success and troop withdrawals.
Somehow I expected more from Bush’s speech on Wednesday about the Iraq War: President Outlines Strategy for Victory in Iraq at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland; White House Web site 11/30/05. Instead, it was not much more than a new set of talking points for the same story they’ve been pushing since practically the beginning: we’re winning, we’re winning (see Gen. Myers’ quote above) and we have to keep on winning and things are going beautifully over there and anyone who criticizes Dear Leader Bush’s war policy is giving aid and comfort to the enemy and hates American troops.
—Philoso Fix: “Perhaps now Democratic senators such as John Kerry and Ted Kennedy will finally stop claiming things like “The president has no plan for victory in Iraq” or “There is no exit strategy in Iraq”. Unfortunately, the carping continues on the left and makes an intellectually honest observer ask: what is it they still don’t understand?”
—Liberty Street: “There is no strategy. The President’s speech today was the same old mix of bombastic, meaningless rhetoric; delusional fantasy, and inability to distinguish between cause and effect, or to think logically…Iraqi forces are earning the terror of their countrymen — who have stopped leaving their homes for all but the most dire emergencies because no place outside their homes is safe anymore. And I hate to be the one to tell you this, Georgie, but — one of the enemies in Iraq is us.”
Merriam-Webster defines zealot as a zealous person; especially : a fanatical partisan. I’d say that describes President Bush to a ‘T’. His particular brand of zeal should engender respect from those he’s fighting in Iraq. Frankly, they should take a moment to pause, because Bush is as fanatical in his quest as any terrorist he’s likely to force us to face. Bush hit the airwaves big time today in an effort to stem the hemorrhage of his popularity over the Iraq war. What did we hear? More of the same, which amounts to exactly nothing.
President Bush’s approval numbers are at about the same level as President Lincoln’s were at the height of the War of Northern Aggression. Today history recognizes President Lincoln as one of the Greatest Presidents of all time, and the liberator of the slaves.
In a few years, history will recognize President Bush as one of the Greatest Presidents of all time, the Liberator of Twenty Million Iraqis from Tyranny, the Founder of Democracy in the Middle East, and the Stabilizer of the region, in the face of strong domestic opposition. And history will remember the Democrats as the people who fought the liberation of the Iraqi people and the stabilization of that region for political advantage. Which side of this conflict would you rather history remember YOU as being on?