Didn’t see it live, but caught the video. Rather than make the effort to actually put my reaction into coherent words and sentences, I decided to let Fred Kaplan do it for me:
President Bush’s TV address tonight was the worst speech he’s ever given on the war in Iraq, and that’s saying a lot. Every premise, every proposal, nearly every substantive point was sheer fiction. The only question is whether he was being deceptive or delusional.
The biggest fiction was that because of the "success" of the surge, we can reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades to 15 by next July. Gen. David Petraeus has recommended this step, and President George W. Bush will order it so.
Let’s be clear one more time about this claim: The surge of five extra combat brigades (bringing the total from 15 to 20) started in January. Their 15-month tours of duty will begin to expire next April. The Army and Marines have no combat units ready to replace them. The service chiefs refuse to extend the tours any further. The president refuses to mobilize the reserves any further. And so, the surge will be over by next July. This has been understood from the outset. It is the result of simple arithmetic, not of anyone’s decision, much less some putative success.
Kaplan goes on to note the muddying contradictions in Bush’s speech, something which I quickly noted and made me want to bang my head against the wall. For example, Bush claims that the fight in Iraq is the central conflict in the battle for the future of civilization. But he also advocates withdrawing some troops — around 6,000 — by Christmas.
Well, excuse me, but how can one person hold those two views at the same time? If the Iraq conflict is supposedly vital and the stakes so high, how can Bush withdraw any troops?
It’s all part of this strange kabuki dance wherein we hear that progess is being made, but yet — somehow — never enough progress to warrent serious troop reductions ore redeployment. For literally years now, we have been by this Administration told that the situation in Iraq is "improving" (or that the enemy is in their "last throes") and so on. But for some reason, we never seem to get to the point where we can actually declare "We’ve done all that we can". It has to be, as Kaplan suggests, an outright deception.
Back to the speech: "Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq’s government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home." Even if it were true that the movement called al-Qaida in Mesopotamia is one and the same with the larger al-Qaida organization (a point that the U.S. intelligence community disputes), AQM accounts for only 5 percent of the attacks inside Iraq—some of the deadliest 5 percent, but it is misleading to suggest that they are the biggest obstacle to Iraqi unity, much less the greatest threat to regional peace.
And more lies here.
And fact-checking Bush here. (Guess what? Not exactly truthy, that President of ours). Here’s an example:
At one point, the president cited a recent report by a commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, saying that "the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police."
But the report said Iraq’s army will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven." It also described the 25,000-member national police force as riddled with sectarianism and corruption, and it recommended that it be disbanded.
The commission also recommended that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning responsibility for security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies — advice the president did not follow in last night’s speech.
Bush’s message boiled down to this: "We’re going to stay in Iraq until that government is successful in governing and protecting itself."
To me, that is the opposite of what we should be saying to Iraq. Instead, we should be saying, particularly to the Iraqi leaders, "Listen folks. We’re not going to stay here forever. We’re going home soon so you better get your ass in gear and stop sucking on our military teat".
It’s pretty obvious to me that the Bush strategy — politically — is to maintain our presence in Iraq until it becomes the next President’s problem. He’ll withdraw enough troops to please war critics (or so he thinks), but he’ll stress the dangers of leaving so that we can’t actually redeploy out fo there. While he’ll probably succeed, I think the next President can innoculate himself from that by calling for troop withdrawel NOW.
Hand claps for the Edwards response:
"In January, after years of evidence that military actions cannot force a political solution, the president announced a military surge to force a political solution. In May, he vetoed a plan to end the war, demanded more time to show the surge could work, and Congress gave it to him. Now, after General Petraeus reports the surge has produced no progress toward a political solution, what does the president want? More time for the surge to work, when we know it won’t.
Our troops are stuck between a president without a plan to succeed and a Congress without the courage to bring them home."
Barack Obama weighs in:
It is long past time to end a war that never should have started. President Bush was wrong when he took us to war, he was wrong when he escalated this war in January, and he is wrong to stay the course now. I opposed this war from the beginning, I introduced legislation in January that would have already started to bring our troops home, and I will continue to lead the fight in the Senate for a fixed timeline with a deadline for the removal of all of our combat troops. The American people are not going to be fooled by the same false promises of success that got us into Iraq. Iraq’s leaders are not making the political progress that was the stated purpose of the surge, but the President wants us to keep giving him a blank check. We must not continue the enormous sacrifice of our troops, our military readiness, our treasury, and our standing in the world just to keep the violence at the same unacceptable levels it was at in 2005 and 2006. That is why I have proposed an immediate and sustained removal of 1 to 2 combat brigades each month to conclude by the end of next year. We have to come together – not as Republicans and Democrats – but as Americans to turn the page in Iraq so that we can recapture our unity of purpose at home and our leadership around the world.
This New York Times editorial also nails it:
[Bush’s] only real plan is to confuse enough Americans and cow enough members of Congress to let him muddle along and saddle his successor with this war that should never have been started.
I like this, too, from Andrew Sullivan:
This is what Bush cannot recognize: there is no Iraq. There are no Iraqis. There may have been at one point – but what tiny patina of national unity that once existed to counter primordial sectarian loyalty was blown away by the anarchy of the Rumsfeld-Franks invasion. The president’s stunning detachment from this reality tragically endures – whether out of cynicism or delusion or, more worryingly, a simple intellectual inability to understand the country he is determined that the United States occupy for the rest of our lives.
The low-point was his almost desperate recitation of a poignant email that posited that this war is one between "good" and "evil". I don’t doubt the sincerity of the sentiment; I don’t doubt either that the murderous extremes of sectarian hatred or religious fanaticism are, at some level, evil. I know that the motives of many people who supported this war – and many who still support it – are honorable. And I know that America is ultimately a force for good in this world. But that doesn’t mean that America is incapable or error or immorality. And to reduce the immense complexity of Iraq to such a binary moralism is a sign of a president reaching for comfortable, Manichean abstractions as a replacement for strategic judgment and knowledge. The American people deserve better from a war-president: more honesty, more candor, more realism.