Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush's best case scenario

President George W. Bush delivered his third speech in a series of four meant to bolster his poll numbers and to build support for his policies concerning war in Iraq. (Transcript)

It seems that Bush is most interested in changing his tone, admitting mistakes and acknowledging the costs of the war, but not the substance of his policies -- at least that is what I derive from the rhetoric. David Gergen, on Hardball tonight, said that Bush may be preparing to leave Iraq in a violent state, perhaps not even a united country. That may assume a little too much. What we can say with certainty is that Bush wants to open political options to play in 2006 and 2007.

But his speech today does not make me believe that Bush has fully addressed the problems, which I believe requires a change in strategy. These speeches on Iraq remind me of the post-Katrina, post-Heck-of-a-job president. He was willing to promise big changes and accept blame, but not much more than that.
I've come to discuss an issue that's really important, and that is victory in the war on terror. And that war started on September the 11th, 2001, when our nation awoke to a sudden attack.
The conceptual framework that Bush brings to this conflict is not encouraging. Terror qua terror is a tactic, wars are fought against organizations or states. Moreover, this war on terror -- if we forgive the clumsy name for the conflict -- did not begin on that terrible day in 2001. Al Qaeda was founded in 1988. Ten years later, Osama bin Laden said he would attack U.S. citizens. Months later, bombs killed scores at American embassies in Africa. The attack on the Cole happened about a year before September 11. (BBC Timeline)

The president could have, and has, invoked September 11 without referring to it as the start of the war on terror. It was certainly the most important event in that conflict. But, it was not the start. Another problematic historical reference from the president was the invocation of the founding fathers.
Our founders faced many difficult challenges, they made mistakes, they learned from their experiences and they adjusted their approach.
This oversimplified and marginally interesting parable teaches us little. It could convince some that the struggles one expects in an emerging democracy somehow make the violence in Iraq understandable in a Western democratic sense. This anecdote about our founding fathers contains more deception than historical analysis.

The French in the late 18th century had a number of advantages to develop democracy. They had assisted the American founding fathers, working close to George Washington. They had Benjamin Franklin as an ambassador socializing in Paris. Many of the philosophers of France influenced the development of Enlightenment thought in Europe. Yet, France's republic devolved into Napoleon's empire.

A better understanding of the "fits and starts" of our founding fathers must contain not only the turbulent times of the Articles of Confederation, but also the period of Cromwell and the Commonwealth. From this perspective, Bush's analysis seems naive -- either from ignorance or by design.

Most of Bush's speech today detailed goals, a description of the result he'd like to see. Perhaps the result he believes he will see. However, the planning is insufficient.
Today, I want to discuss the political element of our strategy: our efforts to help the Iraqis build inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all the Iraqi people.
The structure of this "political element" is teleological -- it can only be evaluated based on results. The absence of "inclusive democratic institutions" would mean that the efforts mentioned were unsuccessful. At present, it is impossible to determine that there are sufficient democratic institutions. The same can be said to the contrary.

Bush's best defense for his assertion may be this from his speech:
Many Sunnis voted against the constitution, but Sunnis voted in large numbers for the first time. They joined the political process and by doing so they reject the violence of the Saddamists and rejectionists.
It is true that Sunnis have and will continue to participate more in the elections. But, it does not follow that they therefore reject all of the violence in the country. One new element in Bush's speech, new to me at least, does sound like a good idea:
Now Iraq has a new electoral system where seats in the new council of representatives will be allocated by province and population, much like our own House of Representatives.
However, the result in Iraq is far from clear. Bush presents, to this day, far too optimistic of a picture. It is a shame that so many people, Senator Lieberman and the Wall Street Journal, are so willing to believe the best case scenario -- just as too many were willing to believe the worst case scenario of Saddam's regime.

Bush claimed today:
By helping Iraqis to gain a democracy, we will gain an ally in the war on terror.
The truth is that Iran has a better chance of gaining an ally, a splintered Shiite Iraq region with oil reserves and a foothold in Arabic lands. It would suit Iran's apparent ambition to rise on the global stage as a regional power.


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