First I'm not quite sure what this is. It says for immediate release and it's dated 8:02 PM EDT so I think it's a press release of the speech just as he started giving it. So why are there two places that say "(applause)"? Were they instructions to the audience? I found halfway through reading the speech that I was using my own voice and not Bush's (or an SNL impression of Bush and that I really enjoyed that more than listening to his voice.
He changed the demeaner from the "War in Iraq" to the "War on Terror", ok. And while he mentioned 9/11 five times it mostly seemed ok. The part that struck me was the new phrase I've been hearing for about week now "totalitarian ideology". I didn't think a nationless terrorist organization without a government could be "totalitarian". I preferred the fundamentalist label, but I guess that causes some problems for Bush. He also said how this ideology "despises all dissent" which also struck close to home with all the stupid speaches I've been hearing from Congress and Karl Rove about how the other side is attacking them.
Bush talked again about how instead of fighting the terrorists here we need to fight them abroad. Many Democrats point out that Iraq wasn't involved in 9/11 (which is very true) and that Iraq has now grown and imported terrorists since our invasion ("Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others"). I wonder if the plan wasn't really to get terrorists to fight Americans in Iraq instead of in the US.
He said "Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East." He went on to say "They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty, as well. And when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits, and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world." That may well be true. Bush also quoted German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, "There can be no question a stable and democratic Iraq is in the vested interest of not just Germany, but also Europe." Bush later in his speech mentioned the effects of a free Iraq around the world: that Libya has given up its WMD program, that Palestinians and Lebanese had elections and more vaguely that "elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia".
It really could be that the best way to stop this fundamentalist Islamic movement is to offer the Arab nations a better (aka democratic) choice and our experience with them is that in the 30 years they haven't taken the opportunity to do it themselves. Thomas Friedman is all over this, that the biggest real underlying cause of terrorism is that the existing Arab governments have failed to make economically viable modern nations, even with the advantage of all the oil money.
Others will point out Bush also said "We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren." and that seems at odds with the casualties and growth of the insurgency we're seeing. I agree those are real concerns and we should but don't seem to have a real concrete plan for dealing with it. But I disagree that these numbers prove the idea is wrong, this could be the case of it getting worse before it gets better, or that the tactics need some improving but the strategy is correct. There was a huge spike in World War II casualties on D-Day but that really was progress in the war. I haven't seen evidence from either side if we're winning, only that the casualty rate is high.
Bush did a good job explaining that while the terrorists have recently done many horrible things, they've failed on any strategic goals of stopping the democratic movement in Iraq. That's an important point. The goal of terrorism is to change the behavior of governments when you don't have a nation or army strong enough to fight in a conventional way. Yes capturing Bin Laden would be great to see, but I doubt it will stop Al Qaeda the same way capturing Saddam didn't stop the violence in Iraq. The measure can't be the end of terrorist acts (even though on that front Bush as a perfect score, zero terrorist acts in the US since 9/11), the measure has to be the continuation of our way of life (and on that front I think the Patriot Act is a failure).
The President then used the report card approach and then outlined steps going forward. Let's see how he did at this. He said: "A little over a year ago, I spoke to the nation and described our coalition's goals in Iraq." I believe he's referring to a speech on May 24, 2004 which the White House has entitled: President Outlines Steps to Help Iraq Achieve Democracy and Freedom. In that speech he clearly listed "five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom":
- transfering full sovereignty to Iraq on June 30, 2004
- establish the stability and security that democracy requires. fighting with Iraqis to defeat "the terrorists, illegal militia, and Saddam loyalists". He particularly called out Fallujah.
- rebuilding [Iraqi] infrastructure
- "enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition"
- free, national elections by January 2005
Yesterday he said "I outlined the steps we would take to achieve this goal: We would hand authority over to a sovereign Iraqi government. We would help Iraqis hold free elections by January 2005. We would continue helping Iraqis rebuild their nation's infrastructure and economy. We would encourage more international support for Iraq's democratic transition, and we would enable Iraqis to take increasing responsibility for their own security and stability." So he reordered the goals he didn't change them, that's a good first step. The next is how did he do at achieving them?
Clearly we've handed over sovereignty and there were elections by January. Also clearly we've helped rebuild the infrastructure though there's lots more to do, Bush said "Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made." and I think that's fair. He said " Thus far, some 40 countries and three international organizations have pledged about $34 billion in assistance for Iraqi reconstruction. More than 80 countries and international organizations recently came together in Brussels to coordinate their efforts to help Iraqis provide for their security and rebuild their country." and my guess is that's the same overstating of the coalition he did during the election.
So what about the part of making Iraq safe? Here's everything Bush said: "Finally, we have continued our efforts to equip and train Iraqi security forces. We made gains in both the number and quality of those forces. Today Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions. Iraqi forces have fought bravely, helping to capture terrorists and insurgents in Najaf and Samarra, Fallujah and Mosul. And in the past month, Iraqi forces have led a major anti-terrorist campaign in Baghdad called Operation Lightning, which has led to the capture of hundreds of suspected insurgents. Like free people everywhere, Iraqis want to be defended by their own countrymen, and we are helping Iraqis assume those duties." That doesn't sound right to me. He changed the goal of making Iraq safe and defeating the terrorists to having Iraqi security forces that conduct operations.
He could have talked about the US-Iraqi Offensive in Fallujah last November. Of the estimated 1000-6000 insurgents there about 1200 were killed and 1000 captured. 15-20% of the town was destroyed and about 60% damaged. Only about a 1/3 of the town's population was back by March and they have to wear ID cards all the time. While I understand this is war, that doesn't sound like a safe and secure Iraq, but perhaps it is progress.
Bush then described the plan going forward, but it was far less specific than what he offered a year ago. We'll hunt down terrorists and help Iraq defend itself. He mentioned three specific ways we (including other nations) are helping to train the Iraqi units which are all well and good. But these are tactics, not goals. He described why having a deadline for bring out troops home is a mistake. "Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer." I happen to agree with all of that. What I disagree with is not having a timeline or if you will a project plan going forward. Last year he said elections by January, that's a goal, and remember many thought it couldn't happen that quickly, but it did. Why not now say something like by January we'll have 100,000 Iraqi units fully functional and can begin bring some US troops home? That's a timeline. If we don't have the functioning Iraqi units we don't bring troops home, it's still incentive to our troops and the Iraqis and it doesn't give the enemy a date to wait us out. After we leave they'll have the Iraqi forces to contend with.
He talked about the next steps in building an Iraqi government, namely writing a constitution but set no deadline for having it done. Okay, Iraq is now sovereign, he can't set a deadline, but how about a goal, you know like going to Mars. And that's about it, which really surprised me. His report card based on his stated goals from last year is pretty good, why not repeat it? Well it's not an election year, so he doesn't have to defend himself so much. Also the general mood now is that Iraq isn't going so well and the administration is a bit in a world of its own. Cheney's "last throws" remark didn't help. And Rumsfeld's round on the Sunday news show didn't bring anything new to it either.
It really felt like a missed opportunity. He could have talked about the miltary plans to bring security to Iraq or the plan for when the Iraqi troops will be trained. Or how we're getting the equipment our troops need to them (according to Rumsfled we're doing some, but why not more?). He could have talked about securing Iraqi borders to prevent foreign terrorists from moving in, or securing US borders to defend us from any terrorist attack here. He could have talked about plans to get Iraqi oil fields working faster so they could pay for all the aid they are receiving (remember when we were told it would only cost a few billion to do this because Iraq had all this oil tied up), or how he's going to balance the budget to pay for all of what we're doing in Iraq. He could of mentioned how he's going to fund the VA programs so our troops are taken care of when they return. He could have described an energy policy to make us less dependent on Arab oil. He could have asked the US citizens to make some sacrifice to help. This is all he asked: "This Fourth of July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom -- by flying the flag, sending a letter to our troops in the field, or helping the military family down the street." While that's a nice thought, I don't think it will accomplish much, much as this speech didn't.