By its own recent standards, this Washington Post account of President Bush’s latest speech on Iraq isn’t bad. For once, the Post even saw fit to use a neutral headline — “Bush Presents Plan to Win Iraq War.” And, if you read far enough, author Michael Fletcher actually reports a few of the facts and figures the president cited in support of his claim that Iraqi security forces are making substantial progress.
The Post’s Peter Baker compensates for Fletcher’s relative objectivity in a companion piece called “An Offering of Detail But No New Substance,” but at least Baker’s piece is presented as “analysis.” The label may be generous, though. Consider the title. What does the author mean by “no new substance?” The headline to Fletcher’s piece states that Bush offered a plan to win the war. Liberals have been carping for several years that Bush has no plan. If so, then the president did offer new substance. In reality, while the president has had a plan for victory, he hasn’t done an effective job spelling it out, nor have liberal organs like the Post been willing to report the plan to the extent that administration officials have articulated it. Indeed, Baker himself makes no effort to inform readers of Bush’s plan.
Baker’s piece does contain a few notable quotes from Bush’s critics. First, Madeleine Albright, under whose watch al Qaeda flourished and who turned down the opportunity to take out bin Laden, states that “the president was basically repackaging things and saying everything’s fine when every day we read that things are not fine.” That’s a lot of error and distortion for one sentence. First, the president did not say that everything was fine. Second, in what sense was Bush “repacking things?” He presented empirical evidence of progress. Albright isn’t in a position to dispute the evidence, and she can’t admit that there’s been progress, so she dismisses the evidence as “repackaging.” Finally, I don’t doubt that Albright constantly reads that things “are not fine.” But if she had an open mind she might, having considered the evidence in Bush’s speech and the accompanying report, entertain the possibility that what’s she’s reading may not be the whole truth.
A fairer assessment came from Senator Biden, who called the speech “a positive step.” Biden added that “the president did a better job of laying out where we are and where we’re trying to go in Iraq, but failed to tell us how or when we’re going to get there.” It’s true that Bush’s speech didn’t lay out in detail how we will accomplish our objectives in Iraq. However, the accompanying report sets that out in its discussion of three related tracks — political, security, and economic.
As for “when we’re going to get there,” that’s simply not knowable. Bush can no more tell us when our involvement in this conflict will end than any president in any substantial past conflict has been able to. The Democratic party — part pacifist, part opportunist, part bureaucratic, part clueless — is attempting to make the existence of a date certain for victory a condition for supporting war. This is a recipe for impotence.