So, guys, how did he do? I only read the text of President Bush’s speech last night, it’s available here. Reading the speech, it seemed rather disjointed. The President made the two basic points he needs to make very clearly, however: 1) Good progress is being made in Iraq, and 2) Iraq is the central battleground in the war against terror. Despite constant negativism in the press, these are two propositions that most Americans are willing to accept if the President makes the case.
This morning’s Washington Post treats the speech virtually as an admission of failure:
“After a string of setbacks, President Bush had to confront the obvious last night, that the postwar conflict in Iraq is not going well and that it will take considerably more time, money and sacrifice for the United States to prevail than he had told the country when he launched an invasion last April.”
That’s not what Bush said, of course, but no matter: it’s the Post’s story line and they’re sticking to it. Like virtually all mainstream media, the Post portrays the administration’s effort to enlist international help for postwar Iraq as a humiliating about-face. The Post says:
“Particularly notable was Bush’s call for others to share the burden. Bush invaded Iraq without the support of many countries, but last night he said the United States cannot succeed in Iraq without greater involvement of the United Nations, the deployment of more international forces and the financial contributions of allies in Europe, the Middle East and Japan.”
Actually, the President said no such thing. And I don’t understand where the supposed about-face lies. Prior to the war, the administration always made it clear that it wanted international support. Indeed, months were wasted in a fruitless search for more specific U.N. sanction. Ultimately, several dozen countries contributed material support to the war effort. Now, in the post-war era, the administration continues to want international sharing of the burden.
In addition to the speech’s principal themes, the President fired one shot across the Democratic bow that may prove significant: “The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world. In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken.”
The President has, until now, refused to criticize the obvious ineptitude (or worse) of the Clinton administration in combatting terrorism. But if the Democrats attack the President’s handling of the war on terror ever more vociferously in the coming campaign, and they will, the President will be prepared to contrast his efforts to protect American security with those of his predecessor. The comparison will not be flattering to the Democrats. And Bush will include a reference to Beirut, which took place under President Reagan, to give his attack on Clinton a nonpartisan air.
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