A couple of snippets, first from Philadelphia:
The third key challenge is establishing rule of law and the culture of reconciliation. Iraqis still have to overcome longstanding ethnic and religious tensions, and the legacy of three decades of dictatorship. During the regime of Saddam Hussein, Shia, Kurds and other groups were brutally oppressed, and for some there is now a temptation to take justice into their own hands. Recently, U.S. and Iraqi troops have discovered prisons in Iraq where mostly Sunni men were held, some of whom have appeared to have been beaten and tortured. This conduct is unacceptable, and the Prime Minister and other Iraqi officials have condemned these abuses, an investigation has been launched, and we support these efforts. Those who committed these crimes must be held to account.
We will continue helping Iraqis build an impartial system of justice that protects all of Iraqs citizens. Millions of Iraqis are seeing their independent judiciary in action, as their former dictator, Saddam Hussein, is put on trial in Baghdad. The man who once struck fear in the hearts of Iraqis has heard his victims recount the acts of torture and murder that he ordered. One Iraqi watching the proceedings said: "We all feel happiness about this fair trial." Slowly but surely, with the help of our coalition, Iraqis are replacing the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law, and ensuring equal justice for all their citizens.
Oh, I know some fear the possibility that Iraq could break apart and fall into a civil war. I dont believe these fears are justified. Theyre not justified so long as we do not abandon the Iraqi people in their hour of need. Encouraging reconciliation and human rights in a society scarred by decades of arbitrary violence and sectarian division is not going to be easy and its going to happen overnight. Yet the Iraqi government has a process in place to resolve even the most difficult issues through negotiate, debate and compromise. And the United States, along with the United Nations and the Arab League and other international partners, will support these efforts to help resolve these issues. And as Iraqis continue to develop the habits of liberty, they will gain confidence in the future, and ensure that Iraqi nationalism trumps Iraqi sectarianism.
Noteworthy here is the Presidents recognition that one of the challenges Iraqis face is reconciliation. Even after the military goals have been met, the Iraqis will face a contentious process of accounting for injustice and grievance. There are lots of folks in the world who have some experience and expertise here, and the President has just invited them in.
And now from his final speech:
Some in Washington are calling for a rapid and complete withdrawal of our forces in Iraq. They say that our presence there is the cause for instability in Iraq, and that the answer is to set a deadline to withdraw. I disagree. Ive listened carefully to all the arguments, and there are four reasons why I believe that setting an artificial deadline would be a recipe for disaster.
First, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the Iraqis. As Iraqis are risking their lives for democracy, it would tell them that America is more interested in leaving than helping them succeed, put at risk all the democratic progress they have made over the past year.
Secondly, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the enemy. It would tell them that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run. It would vindicate the terrorists tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder. It would embolden the terrorists and invite new attacks on America.
Third, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the region and the world. It would tell our friends and supporters that America is a weak and unreliable ally, and that when the going gets tough, America will retreat.
Finally, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the most important audience -- our troops on the front line. It would tell them that America is abandoning the mission they are risking their lives to achieve, and that the sacrifice of their comrades killed in this struggle has been in vain. I make this pledge to the families of the fallen: We will carry on the fight, we will complete their mission, and we will win. (Applause.)
Victory will be achieved by meeting certain clear objectives: when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraqs democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can protect their own people, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against our country. These objectives, not timetables set by politicians in Washington, will drive our force levels in Iraq. As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. And when victory is achieved, our troops will then come home, with the honor they have earned. (Applause.)
These arguments are unanswerable, and repeated Democratic calls for benchmarks dont really try. This WaPo analysis tries to find confusion or equivocation in the two formulas--victory or "standing down as the Iraqis stand up"--that the President has used in speaking about when troops will come home. It seems to me that the President was tolerably clear. The Iraqi business is above all with Saddamist rejectionists, who are politically marginalized but need to be defeated militarily. This is a task that, increasingly, the Iraqi military is handling. Our business is ultimately with the Zarqawi-led terrorists. So long as they are operating in Iraq, we cant leave. So with respect to one of the military threats, it makes sense to stand down as Iraqis stand up, but not with respect to the other.
And, of course, standing down is a process: were standing down as we hand bases over to the Iraqi military, as we lower our profile, as we change the configuration of our forces, as we moves from providing security to providing training and logistical assistance, and as we reduce our overall numbers in the country and in the region.
These were good, compelling speeches. The Democratic response was weak and unpersuasive. The headline and lead in this story are telling. And as for Jack Murtha, Cindy Sheehans successor, theres nothing better than this response.