Thursday, December 01, 2005

On Second Thought

Analysts for a number of major newspapers that have been sharply critical of the Iraq war seemed remarkably in step today when it came to one aspect of President Bush’s speech at the Naval Academy.

As Tyler Marshall and Mark Mazzetti put it in the Los Angeles Times:

After months of a lingering disconnect between the White House and senior military commanders, Bush's comments also seemed to bring him into line not just with America's military, but with the rest of his administration.

Repeatedly, military commanders have made the case that only a draw-down of U.S. troops would make Iraqi forces take control of their nation's security. They also argue that the very presence of American troops — viewed as occupiers by most Iraqis — helps drive the insurgency.

On Wednesday, Bush finally seemed to accept the argument.

And the always observant John Burns, reporting from Baghdad for The New York Times:

For anyone who has spent time in the field with American officers here, President Bush's speech on Wednesday was a watershed: for the first time in the two years since the conflict here turned brutal, the war Mr. Bush described sounded much like the one his generals grapple with every day. . . .

Mr. Bush, in some passages of his speech, came much closer than he has before to matching the hard-nosed assessments of the war that have long been made by American commanders here, at least among themselves. While maintaining a stoic confidence in public, many of these commanders, over the past 18 months, have pressed behind the scenes for the Pentagon to move toward a more realistic appraisal of the war than has been common among major administration figures in Washington.

So let’s give the president credit for finally saying out loud what his commanders in the field have been saying sotto voce for some time.

But beyond that – and this becomes even more obvious when one reads the text of the speech as opposed to watching Bush make google eyes at a Teleprompter – the president was long on details (like how the Iraqi Army is being built up to the point where it will be able to hold onto territory that insurgents in the past would retake), but short on substance (like how the hell we’re going to get out).

As one pundit put it, Americans are translating Bush’s “stay the course” rhetoric as meaning “stay forever.” His speech did nothing to disabuse an increasingly restive public of that notion.

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