Apparently you go to war with the army you have, but once you’re there you might end up in a different fight than you intended. Bush essentially said so much tonight when he admitted, “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in.” What I found amazing about this section of the speech is how Bush characterized the situation in Iraq as entirely the creation of the evildoing enemy and seemingly absolved the occupying US force of any responsibility for the civil war that has engulfed that country on America’s watch. Here’s the section I’m referring to:
In Iraq, Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia — and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.
Bush leaves out the fact that US troops were occupying Iraq while all of this happened, leaving us now on the precipice of what he termed the “nightmare scenario” of a regional conflagration. Why is a continued occupation, with a somewhat increased force but no major strategy shift, going to produce better results going forward? That’s the question Bush failed to address adequately, and that failure is why I don’t think the speech will help him much at all. All he really said was “I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success” and he then added, “I ask you to give it a chance to work.” My guess is that a faith-based war policy won’t cut it for the public any more, considering the failures of the past.
A similar pattern was evident in the earlier section of the speech on the economy. The first item he mentioned was balancing the federal budget, asserting, “What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C.” This miraculously ignores the fact that Bush has been president for the past six years with a friendly Republican-led Congress. If there has been any lack of spending discipline in recent times, the responsibility lies squarely with him. He then went on to criticize middle-of-the-night votes, a hallmark of the GOP Congress that played a key role in the passage of signature Bush agenda items like the Medicare prescription drug legislation. It’s peculiar how this sudden concern with the way Congress does business corresponds with the start of the new “Democrat majority”, as Bush incorrectly insists on calling the Democratic Party’s control of the legislative branch. (I noted that the transcript of the speech, at least Fox’s version, says “Democratic”–does Bush intentionally change the word in his delivery so as to annoy his political opponents?)
A few other quick notes:
- On CNN’s coverage both Ted Kennedy and John McCain appeared to be sleeping when the camera panned to them. Perhaps it was past their bed times?
- There was no “The state of our union is strong!” line, as in every past Bush SOTU. Maybe he was chastened by the Daily Show mocking this practice in last night’s show. Or more likely he realized how dumb it would sound this year given how poorly things have been going for him. [Update: Bush actually did tuck “the state of our union is strong” into the middle of his last sentence of the speech, but there was no triumphalism at the top, as has been customary in the past.]
- The shout out to Dikembe Mutombo was incredibly random near the end. Naturally, it may not have been completely accurate in describing the basketball star’s path to Georgetown.