Is That All There Is?
After more than a month of frenzied anticipation, President Bush's speech last night was such a limp letdown -- with the notable exception of provocative, bellicose words aimed at Iran and Syria -- that it raises the question: What is he really up to?
Could his secret goal be to run out the clock, and leave Iraq to his successor? Might he be setting the stage for an exit on his terms -- giving the Iraqis one last chance, and if they blow it, then he withdraws? Is it even possible that he is beginning the process of shifting the attention of the military -- and the American public -- from Iraq to Iran?
Those theories may sound a bit conspiratorial, but Bush's new proposal is so internally contradictory, so incremental, so problematically dependent on Iraqi good behavior, and so unlikely to galvanize public support that it seems to me that it's open season on alternate explanations of his motivation.
There is, for instance, an irresolvable contradiction between Bush's insistence on the necessity of winning, because the alternative is cataclysmic, and his demand that the Iraqi government meet certain benchmarks, or else.
What does he mean by or else? He won't say.
Is he talking about a coup? Presumably he means we would pull out if they don't meet their benchmarks. But how can he plausibly threaten to pull out -- which, of course, happens to be what a majority of Americans and Iraqis now want -- if he continues to insist that pulling out would put America in mortal danger, not to mention detonate the entire Middle East?
The only thing Bush would say last night about the consequences of Iraqi failure to meet benchmarks was this: "If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people." Some threat. That already happened long ago."
* President Bush:
"Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. "territorial integrity?
As for Iran, said Russert: "In the discussion with his senior advisors, with the president, again, something I took away, that it's the president's thinking that he will not sit down with people that he refers to as tyrants until he has, quote, leverage. Suggesting that he has to win the war in Iraq or secure Iraq -- and then he doesn't have to go to Syria and Iran and, quote, ask for anything. That's the way he looks at this. Secondly, there's a strong sense in the upper echelon of the White House that Iran is going to surface relatively quickly as a major issue in the country and the world and -- in a very acute way."
* Michael Gerson:
"[T]he president has shown that he is unimpressed by the conventional foreign policy wisdom. Instead of going to Iran as a supplicant, he is sending a carrier strike group to the region. Instead of abandoning a struggling democracy, he asserts that democracy is worth fighting for, and that our long-term security depends on democratic progress. Instead of seeking cover for retreat, he points out that retreat may also have unintended consequences, including genocidal levels of violence in Iraq. This new approach is likely to put his critics on the defensive, at least for a time."deluded.