The President’s speech at the Army War College did one big thing: It probably stopped the apprehension (and even panic) about whether Iraq is melting into chaos. I happened to see Peter Galbraith (Demo sharpshooter and Clinton’s ambassador to Croatia) on the Lehrer Report just before Bush’s speech. He was not only pessimistic, but explicitly said that there will be a civil war because everything has gone wrong: our major mistake was that we treated Iraq as one country when it is actually three (etc.). It was a remarkably non-astute political performance (full of anger and vitriol) and Galbraith’s comments is a perfect reflection of the political rhetoric of Bush’s opponents: Bush has to admit that the whole thing--both the mission and its means--have proved wrong. If Bush admits that he has a plan, then he can’t admit his mistakes. Admit your mistakes, you arrogant SOB! Bring in more troops, if not more troops then UN troops, if not UN troops, then at least UN money. It goes on.
The point is that Bush’s opponents are now in an anachronistic and antedeluvian conversation with themselves: They are talking archeology, and Bush is talking space travel. They are angry as hornets that we are in Iraq, and have nothing to contribute to any private or public conversation that may have an effect on current policy. Hence the smell of pessimism, if not a wish for failure. Kerry says nothing on the most important political issue of the day, thereby seeming to agree with Bush’s policy, and supple mouth Biden just shakes his head and wants more detail: Now just what exactly does full sovereignty mean? Does the president have any control? Why isn’t the President leading? I’m not impressed.
Bush meanwhile holds to his purposes, while saying explictly that his means are flexible. He cites Fallujah and Karbala as examples of flexibility. He makes clear (as he always has) the deadline is important because it was a promise and because this will be the formal opportunity for the Iraqis to start taking full responsibility for their country. That means that we can begin thinking about leaving the country. Will post-June 30th be what is called full sovereignty? Will this mean that they may ask us to remove all our troops, and we would? Will it mean that our troops will be unable to conduct military action without the approval of the Iraqi government? It seems to me that it would have been imprudent of him to address such matters; better left to a subaltern like Powell to say that certainly we would remove the troops if asked. That is all that has to be said on the matter. Anything any more exlicit would be insulting and imprudent. Not everything should be made perfectly clear.
Is Bush making a mistake by letting Brahimi choose the whole darn government? Not necessarily; besides, Brahimi will not be doing it alone, both he and the UN carry the kind of baggage that they need help with. That there is some serious (even, God forbid, Machiavellian) politics going on here is obvious, perhaps some of it even has to do with Chalabi and the UN oil-for-food corruption, and Iran, and Syria. Perhaps it should not surprise us that the Arab League is calling for reform in their neighborhood. What is it that they understand that Biden and CNN don’t? What we call Byzantine politics is a mere kindergarten compared to the politics of the Arab world. Can things go wrong? Of course. There are a thousand and one possibilities for mischief. Will they go wrong? Only some will, and a betting man will bet the reasonable odds, which are in our favor. Why? Because I am confident of all the details? No. Because perserverence is a great virtue in times of war, and the chance factors have a way of falling into your line if you push your designs. I believe Bush is pushing. Also, it is clearly in the interest of Iraqis to make this work. I believe they know this and will try mightily to take advantage of an opportunity. Yet, I realize there is no guarantee of success. I’m trying not to trick myself into unwarranted optimism. But I will not fall into the pessimism and the archeological mode of his opponents in the elite media. Let them return to the so called horrors of Abu Ghraib at first light tomorrow (and don’t be surprised if all the headlines read "Bush to demolish notorious prison"; the elites will take this to be the most important part of the speech), get more pictures, try to implicate everyone from Sanchez to Rumsfeld, and hope for the worst. Let them, and the people will think progressively less of them, and the disjunction between the liberal elites and people will become a chasm. In the meantime Iraq is being constructed and they have nothing interesting to say about it. They are turning into background chatter, indistinguishable from one another, always there like elevator music. But such music moves no one and after a while you can’t even hear it.
One last note. I liked to way he delivered the speech: sober and thoughtful. I also liked that he called upon Islam to regain its former greatness when they
"think and work and worship as free men and women, they will reclaim the greatness of their own heritage." Pretty good. Why not? Maybe they can rediscover Aristotle one more time.