Friday, September 14, 2007

War without end

It's not worth my while to offer a lengthy critique of President Bush's latest war address; trust me, you've heard most of his lines many times before.

He did say a few new things, however. He insisted, for instance, that Iraq is a war that our troops "can win," which is a tad bleaker than what he said in December 2005, when, in one of his Knute Rocknesque flights of fancy, he insisted that "'we are winning the war in Iraq."

And last night he also came up with a few lines that would be downright comical if not for the fact that our soldiers are fighting and dying over there. I am referring, of course, to his expression of gratitude to those allies who are fighting and dying with us ("We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq") - a seemingly impressive roster, until one actually does a bit of fact-checking, and discovers that he is giving a shout-out to such powerful stalwarts as Bulgaria (currently, 155 soldiers ), Estonia (35), Macedonia (33), and Moldova (12). He also conveniently omitted the fact that 18 countries have pulled out their troops, and that Britain is in the process of drawing down. Worse yet, his claim that 36 nations "have troops on the ground" is contradicted by his own State Department, which, in its Aug. 30 report, puts the number at 25.

But this war has always been an America-centric operation (unlike the substantive coalition that Bush's father assembled in 1990), and, in the big news of the night, the younger Bush made that abundantly clear:

...Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship...

There it is, the Bush legacy, his gift to his successor in 2009: Open-ended war, with scant guidance from Bush himself on how we should define success or failure.

Speaking of such definitions, there was one overriding question that Bush needed to address last night: How does he plan to capitalize on the troop surge's military gains, and ensure that Iraq's sectarian leaders use the opportunity to achieve political reconciliation? That goal, after all, is what our soldiers this year have been dying for. Bush himself said in January that he expected Iraq's leaders to get their act together, and that he intended to measure their progress along the way; as he put it at the time, "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced."

But, in his speech last night, he essentially confessed that he has no sway over the sorry situation in Baghdad: "The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks - and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must."

Or else he'll do what? Pull out the U.S. troops?

No, that won't happen - because, as he announced moments later, we're poised to build "an enduring relationship." Nowhere in his speech does he warn that the Iraqi government would pay a price if it continues to fail. The bottom line is that he has nothing new to offer about how to mop up his own historic mess. That task will fall to his successor, and you can bet that if the new leader is a Democrat, and that Democrat decides to speed up U.S. troop withdrawals, Bush will be out on the lecture circuit passing the blame.


And on that cheerful note, have a great weekend. Regarding the weather forecast, however, I would first advise checking to see what General Petraeus has to say.