I was driving home from the store as I listened to President Bush’s speech Wednesday evening. The President was grim and serious. For the first time I can remember, he bluntly stated that mistakes had been made and that they were his fault. But he also asserted that failure in Iraq is not an option.
The way I heard it, the President seemed to assert that things had been on track in Iraq (despite mistakes) until sectarian violence caused the plan to unravel. He accepted blame for failing to properly manage the problem of escalating sectarian violence, and he also laid part of the blame at the feet of the Iraqi government. He didn’t seem to acknowledge that his administration could largely have averted the problem had they heeded others that could see what was coming. Bush had blinders on that only permitted him to see the goal he sought. To him the problem of sectarian violence was an annoying distraction from that goal rather than a central issue.
During his speech, the president outlined a new plan for going forward. He provided specific reasons why it differed from past plans and why this new plan was likely to achieve success where past plans had failed. Some of it sounded good to me, but in many ways it seemed like too little too late.
The plan requires the Iraqi government to step up to the plate and do some things they have never done before (although they’ve talked about doing them). The question is whether Iraqis will — or are even capable of — doing those things. The President said what many (especially Democrats) have been pressuring him to say; that our commitment in Iraq is not open ended. He didn’t go so far as to set a clear deadline, which is desired by hardliners.
As I was driving, I incredulously sputtered out loud to the radio, “If failure is not an option, what the heck will we do if the Iraqis do not deliver?” I think that is a question that deserves to be answered. Will we simply close up shop and leave with the last of our people climbing into a helicopter on the roof of the embassy, or will we crack down and assert complete control of the country? A threat without a credible consequence is worse than saying nothing. Parents with lousy discipline habits try this tactic all of the time, but it never achieves the desired result. All it does is demonstrate the weakness of the position of the threatening party.
At the end of the speech, I thought the President had scored some points. He had covered some ground that desperately needed to be covered. However, the whole thing left me rather flat. Despite the President’s resoluteness, his plan did not come across with any serious degree of certainty as a recipe for success. Too much of it depends on the Iraqis. And it would be a major miracle if they were to actually deliver what is needed for the plan to succeed.
Democrats, fresh from their success at the polls in November, are stepping up to … well, to snipe at the President’s proposals. They will try to prevent funding of the President’s plan for a troop increase (that is probably insufficient for getting the job done anyway). As an alternative, they offer — nothing. They had no coherent plan for our involvement in the Middle East during the campaigns. Circumstances conspired to allow them to win by simply being non-Republicans. And today, when the country sorely needs their leadership, they still offer no coherent plan. They have no serious proposals that offer any hope of resolving the issue of Iraq for the good of our country or for the good of Iraqis. Peggy Noonan (along with her criticism of the President’s plan) eloquently discusses this here.
Some Democrats have boldly said that developing such plans are the job of the executive branch rather than the legislative branch. I don’t know what it’s like where you work, but the that’s-not-my-job routine does little to resolve issues or win people to your cause where I work. With our nation experiencing crisis in Iraq and in the Middle East, simply saying, “That’s not my job” doesn’t cut it. At least Bush is offering something that has some chance for success. If you’re going to criticize it and say that it’s not good enough, you have a responsibility to propose something better. To do less than this is extremely irresponsible. The Bush-is-bad mantra does nothing to actually improve matters.
And so what we have with Iraq is a situation where everyone comes up short. The President comes up short because his plan is probably inadequate and requires a miracle to succeed. The Iraqis come up short because they likely will nor or cannot do what they have said they will do and what we need them to do for the plan to work. The President’s domestic adversaries come up short because they simply snipe without considering the good of the nation and without offering any substantive alternative.
This, my good people, is not a hopeful way to move forward toward success. Rather, it is a recipe for disaster. It’s possible that we could sort of stumble our way to success here. Something like that has happened in a few other conflicts. But betting on that is also a long shot.