President Bush's Major Speech: Sounding Old Themes on Iraq. - If Mr. Bush still cannot acknowledge the flaws in his policy, how can he fix them?
We've lost track of the number of times President Bush has told Americans to ignore their own eyes and ears and pretend everything is going just fine in Iraq. Yesterday, when Mr. Bush added a ringing endorsement of his own policy to his speech on terrorism, it was that same old formula: the wrong questions, the wrong answers and no new direction.
Mr. Bush suggested that people who doubt that nation-building is going well are just confusing healthy disagreement with dangerous division. "We've heard it suggested that Iraq's democracy must be on shaky ground because Iraqis are arguing with one another," he scoffed. What he failed to acknowledge was that the Iraqi power groups seem prepared to go through the motions of democracy only as long as their side wins.
Just this week, the United Nations narrowly averted disaster when it convinced Shiite and Kurdish officials to drop a plan to fix the upcoming constitutional referendum to eliminate Sunni voters' capacity to vote down the constitution. But their promises to follow the rules seem likely to hold up only as long as the game goes as they want.
Americans want to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq, and Mr. Bush offered quite a bit. "Area by area, city by city, we're conducting offensive operations to clear out enemy forces and leaving behind Iraqi units to prevent the enemy from returning," he said. Best of all, there were "more than 80 Iraqi Army battalions fighting the insurgency alongside our forces." Unfortunately, the real questions are how many of the cleared-out towns actually stay clear once American troops have gone, and how many Iraqi units are capable of fighting on their own, without American soldiers at their side. In both cases, the answers are far more dismal than Mr. Bush suggested.
As a candidate, Mr. Bush got a lot of mileage out of offering the same simple, positive thoughts over and over. But now the nation doesn't need more specious theories about why the invasion was a good idea and cheery assurances that the original plan is still working. If Mr. Bush still cannot acknowledge the flaws in his policy, how can he fix them?
Americans need clear guidelines for judging how long it makes sense to stay in Iraq. Are our troops helping create a nation, or simply delaying an inevitable civil war? Does a continued American presence help push the Middle East toward peace and democracy, or simply inflame hatred of the United States and serve as a rallying point for Al Qaeda? The fact that the president isn't willing even to raise the questions does not increase confidence in the ultimate outcome.
Given the state of the American adventure in Iraq and the way it has sapped the strength and flexibility of the United States armed forces, it was unnerving to hear Mr. Bush talk so menacingly about Syria and Iran. It was also maddening to listen to him describe the perils that Iraq poses while denying that his policies set them in motion.
It is hard to argue with his assertion that if militants controlled Iraq, they would be well positioned "to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people and to blackmail our government into isolation." It is also hard to resist the temptation to say he should have thought of that before invading.