Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

GWB’s Annapolis speech

Here’s the text of the speech. Here’s the webpage from which you can download the strategy document. A crucial chunk of the executive summary:

Victory Will Take Time

Our strategy is working: Much has been accomplished in Iraq, including the removal of Saddam’s tyranny, negotiation of an interim constitution, restoration of full sovereignty, holding of free national elections, formation of an elected government, drafting of a permanent constitution, ratification of that constitution, introduction of a sound currency, gradual restoration of neglected infrastructure, the ongoing training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, and the increasing capability of those forces to take on the terrorists and secure their nation.

Yet many challenges remain: Iraq is overcoming decades of a vicious tyranny, where governmental authority stemmed solely from fear, terror, and brutality.

It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place less than three years after Saddam was finally removed from power.

Our comprehensive strategy will help Iraqis overcome remaining challenges, but defeating the multi-headed enemy in Iraq -- and ensuring that it cannot threaten Iraq’s democratic gains once we leave -- requires persistent effort across many fronts.

Our Victory Strategy Is (and Must Be) Conditions Based

With resolve, victory will be achieved, although not by a date certain.

No war has ever been won on a timetable and neither will this one.

But lack of a timetable does not mean our posture in Iraq (both military and civilian) will remain static over time. As conditions change, our posture will change.

We expect, but cannot guarantee, that our force posture will change over the next year, as the political process advances and Iraqi security forces grow and gain experience.

While our military presence may become less visible, it will remain lethal and decisive, able to confront the enemy wherever it may organize.

Our mission in Iraq is to win the war. Our troops will return home when that mission is complete.

Here’s the WaPo story; here’s an AP story, though not the one noted by Power Line; and here’s the NYT story.

Mac Owens rather liked the speech:

Our demagogues have pandered to the fears and weaknesses of the American rather than to their virtues and strengths. In his Naval Academy speech, President Bush did just the opposite, exercising his “duty [as one whom the people have] appointed to be the guardians of [their] … interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.”

Today’s speech is the opening salvo in a campaign of public diplomacy to reinvigorate the war effort and restore public support for our enterprise in Iraq. It coincides with the release of the president’s Iraq strategy document, which is important in and of itself. The fact is that the United States has always had a strategy for Iraq, but any strategy worthy of the name must be adaptable.

What critics mean when they say there is no strategy is that they don’t like what the president is doing, although none have offered any alternative but withdrawal. By publishing the outline of his strategy, the president makes it impossible for his critics to take the easy way out. now they will have to put up or shut up…if only.

So did Rich Lowry.

Here’s an account of the predictably negative Democratic response: where once at least a few of them called for more boots on the ground, the chorus now is that our presence is provoking the insurgency. Nancy Pelosi has gone further, actually endorsing John Murtha’s plan for a rapid withdrawal and claiming that at least half the Democratic caucus agrees with her. Bill Kristol thinks this is a bad, nay "disastrous," move:

Pelosi’s endorsement today of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq makes the House Democrats the party of defeat, the party of surrender. Bush’s strong speech today means the GOP is likely to be--if Republican Congressmen just keep their nerve--the party of victory. Now it is possible that the situation in Iraq will worsen over the next year. If that happens, Bush and the GOP are in deep trouble. They would have been if Pelosi had said nothing. But it is much more likely that the situation in Iraq will stay more or less the same, or improve. In either case, Republicans will benefit from being the party of victory.

My bottom line: a very good speech (more please!) and a hollow response, largely bereft of any serious thinking.

Update: Hillary Clinton’s triangulation seems to be costing her with the wing (or is it body?) of the Democratic Party.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Haven’t you prejudged the issue a bit here, Joseph? I can’t see how it’s even a fair interpretation to say that Murtha’s proposal for a graduated withdrawal to the periphery isn’t "serious thinking."

Public worries about whether or not Bush actually has a strategy in Iraq started not with Democrats, but with Bush himself, who, among other things, seemed to proclaim "mission accomplished" shortly after the invasion toppled Hussein.

Your unstated argument seems to be that the only serious response to the conditions in Iraq right now is either the same number of troops or more. But especially if it’s true - as the President himself seemed to acknowledge today - that the majority of the insurgents are not foreign fighters bent on creating another state sponsor of terrorism (as opposed to a terrorist-friendly area created by a power vacuum and instability), but home-grown participants in an incipient civil war, then there is at least an argument for allowing the Iraqis to decide their own fate without unnecessary American intervention.

I fear that "seriousness" on the right on this issue is synonymous with "resolve," as if the struggle against terrorism were one big war of perceptions of relative toughness. That may be a comforting and appealing position with some theoretical bite, if expressed appropriately, but it’s not the only viable candidate for a reasoned approach to the problem of terrorism.

It all sounds good to me, but seriously isn’t there a lot of conflict in these words?

"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq’s new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected."

If the Iraqi’s are free to determine the form of their government, what is to prevent the occurence of one brutal dictator being swapped for another? If all Iraqis will have a voice in the new government what is to prevent the citizens from having their rights abrogated?

If you take seriously the alegations that Iran holds sway in the new government, what is to prevent Iraq turning into another Iran, albeit via initially democratic means?

In all seriousness this whole war thing sounds to me a lot like the discussions on Education, some conservatives would like to gut the Department of Education, while Democrats argue that it is in fact a very essential institution. They argue that if we just throw more money into it...Education will improve, if only we have more computers, bigger classrooms, a lower student to teacher ratio...everything will be fine. They then cite more computers, bigger classrooms and a lower student to teacher ratio as improvements....but argue that it will take more time, more investment ext... after all the children deserve it!

The argument for pulling out is that we should either do it right or get out, because doing it wrong risks building another Iran. It goes without saying that in order to do it right the choice of government cannot be left up to the Iraqi people, anymore than the solution to a math problem could be left open to the third grade vote. What is all to often ignored is that our founders understood the dangers of democracy. We have to step in and determine the precise form of Iraq’s new government, otherwise there will be no way to ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced with another, and no way of ensuring that all citizens have their rights protected.

Right now, despite the rhetoric we are basically working towards stabilization. We should withdraw because stabilization isn’t worth the cost, especially when it is falsely rubber stamped as freedom.

Why is it that President Bush rarely, if ever, addresses ordinary citizens anymore? For being marketed as such a down-to-earth, regulary guy, an emphatic anti-elitist, it’s remarkable how seldom he gets out among the regular folks. The article I linked to nails it nicely:

"President Bush’s safety zone these days doesn’t appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers.

Tomorrow, Bush gives a speech on the war on terror -- at the United States Naval Academy. Then he attends a reception for Republican party donors.

Today, he visits a U.S. Border Patrol office, then attends a Republican fundraising lunch.

Yesterday, he spoke at an Air Force base and a Republican fundraiser.

Before leaving the country on his recent trip to Asia, Bush made one last speech -- at an Air Force base in Alaska. A few days before that, he spoke at an Army depot in Pennsylvania. When he delivered a speech on Nov. 1 about bird flu, it was to an audience of National Institutes of Health employees."

It seems that he’ll only speak somewhere where it is certain, usually due to hierarchical protocol, that he will get nothing less than a predictably enthusiastic response from his audience.

Responses, going last to first.


This is nothing new. Most Presidents, when they make speeches, give them to what they expect to be friendly and supportive audiences. Here, for example, is a list of Bill Clinton’s public papers for November, 1997, the parallel month in his presidency. So far as I can tell, all the speeches are in front of friendly, controllable audiences.


You offer us the choice between, in effect, a colony and an immediate pull-out. Both strike me as intolerable, in large measure because both would in the end produce the same result: an Iraq hostile to the U.S. and the West. Working with the Iraqi people and nurturing a democratic process that won’t quite look like our’s carries some risks, but they can be managed, especially if the Sunni rejectionists come to their senses. There’s a good bit of evidence that Iraqi Shiites are substantially different from the Iranian Shiites (Sistani is clearly not another Khomeini, for example), so I don’t see why we have to be heavy-handed.


If Murtha’s proposal is for "graduated withdrawal to the periphery," then he and George W. Bush are in almost complete agreement, for that captures the substance of the President’s strategy, as outlined yesterday. But Murtha thinks that we can withdraw quickly, and his fellow Democrats want a timetable, which, if adopted and followed, would amount to a signal to our adversaries about how long they would have to bide their time. Those positions strike me as irresponsible. Is there any other Democratic plan? (Joe Lieberman seems to agree with the President.)

Why not make Iraq a colony? I think we should re-frame this entire debate. Let’s talk about running the show, Roman Empire-style. We CONQUERED the nation, now we should be able to do as we please with it. But what about the insurgents? Simple- anyone even suspected of having involvement in the insurgency is arrested and placed in a camp. What about Iran? Even simpler: Conquer them too.

This may come across as a joke, but I am completely serious. Forget what Europe or Asia thinks we should do- they didn’t help us take Iraq over, they don’t have any say in what we do with it. We ARE the world’s lone superpower, aren’t we? Let’s really start acting like it. Let’s flex our muscles and do what serves US best.

I would love to hear what the liberal pansies’ plan is, beyond running home with our tail between our legs.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer has joined the Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party. Will he be subjected to the pogrom conducted by the Kos-sacks as well?

Would President Bush say that the U.S. "conquered" Iraq or "liberated" the people from a murderous dictator and defeated his army? "Conquered" nations have to have different policies than Iraq. Moreover, while the war is debatable from several points of view, I think that very few people would contend that America’s Founding principles support it as a conquering nation "taking over" other countries.

Oh, I agree with, Tony. President Bush would definitely say "liberated." But that’s precisely my point. It’s high time to drop the rhetoric, call a spade a spade and just run the place like we did Germany and Japan after WWII. Iraq is a defeated enemy and they need to be reminded of that- by any means necessary.

I understand why a pull out is bad, in fact I oppose one. My problem is that I fear that the consequences of not pulling out will be just as bad. If so why countinue expending the resources? Maybe it is just my current reading of the Arab times, Electing to Fight (Mansfield @Snyder) ext... and I can’t say that I agree exactly with hardly anyone I read.

My criticism of your point is that a democracy that won’t quite look like ours is more than a simple difference between the constitution of Nebraska and New York, it is in fact very substancial, and has everything to do with why a "democratic" Iraq has anything to do with American National Security and our interests.


A long reply (sorry). Take it for what it’s worth.

I misunderstood you. I thought that you were saying that it is not "serious" to propose withdrawal. That seems to be the position of many administratio defenders. Your response seems to indicate that for you, only a "timetable" for withdrawal is not serious. But is a timetable really that different from pegging withdrawal to particular political goals? If it were true that the main objective of the insurgents were to kick us out (for whatever reason), then why not allow the political goals to proceed? Clearly the situation is more complicated than that.

The goals of the local insurgents are probably: partly to gain local political advantage for the long term, partly revenge, partly to repel the invaders, partly to establish local credibility and power. The goals of international terrorists in Iraq, such as they are, are to weaken the U.S.

It is not clear on the face of it whether or not the invasion of Iraq has itself weakened the U.S., through sharpening the divisions that both parties have caused by instrumentalizing the conflict for political gain. You won’t be surprised to learn that I blame Republicans for this instrumentalization - starting in 2002 - more than I blame Democrats, but that’s not really important.

The long and short of it: it is not clear that a U.S. withdrawal, soon, would weaken the U.S. any more than a protracted conflict that produces, among other things, additional instances of allegations of treason for questioning the administration’s policies, instances of explicit public support for torture, and additional occasion for the opposition to question the trustworthiness of the current administration. Seems to me that it’s "serious" to address those questions, and that both Democrats and Republicans have done so, but Democrats are not encumbered in this respect by the need to support the current administration.

Brett asks: "But is a timetable really that different from pegging withdrawal to particular political goals?"

Short answer: Yes, they really are different. Longer gloss on short answer: Murtha says, in effect, "Let’s get out in 6 months max, no matter what, period." (Calling this perversely-laudable-because-so-frank yawp of utter defeatism a "graduated withdrawal"--Murtha clearly meant it to be as precipitous as possible, given logistical realities--is pretty amusing, btw.) Bush says: "We only go when certain conditions are being fulfilled; certain realities created." Clearly a big difference there, I think.

Germany and Japan are great examples, I agree with David MacAfee. In addition to this what we did with Japan and Germany hardly count as colonization. Do Germany and Japan hate us? Not really. Are they wildly successfull? Yes. Is it too late to do this now in Iraq? Probably. We will just have to hope that the form of government that arrises in Iraq will be less important than the people we are able to train to run things. Of course staying in Iraq is going to get us blammed for everything the Shiite dominated police/military force does...and believe me they think the american ways are too soft.

I’m sorry, Mr. Knippenberg, I don’t see where that link you gave shows us very much. First, many of those papers represent remarks issued by the WH press office, the press secretary, and others, as well as radio addresses and press conferences (radio addresses are rarely in front of an audience from what I know, and as for press conferences, that’s another problem area for this president, I believe). There probably is a fair amount of overlap between these papers and whatever public appearances a president does make, however, I don’t think that is giving us anything close to the full story. A better - but still quite imperfect - standard of measurement WOULD be found here or, maybe to some extent, here, but, conveniently, these stats have not been kept up-to-date. I would like to see updates to these figures, and figures showing us what percentage of public appearances are in front of strictly controlled audiences. And that’s where the current president has been developing quite a reputation (his Social Security reform campaign for instance and, similarly, his recent "impromptu" videoconference w/ the troops).

I also don’t think it’s good to brush this off as "nothing new." What does that say? To the extent it’s true, isn’t that problematic? Shouldn’t presidents be exposed to citizens who disagree with them? Should presidents be so thoroughly sheltered from dissent? I think it’s unlikely, and I’d like to see some more pertinent stats, but if Clinton was as reluctant to face the general populace as Bush seems to be currently, that too was/is quite troubling. And as for "all the speeches" that Clinton gave in Nov. ’97 being "in front of friendly, oontrollable audiences," I’m not sure that would necessarily apply to his remarks at the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas. Further, by taking a look at Clinton’s approval rating in Nov. ’97, which was 60%, it becomes clear to see that some presidents have found it easier to locate "friendly, controllable" audiences than the current President Bush does.

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