Bush's Iraq Speech Falls Flat
a strong delivery, solemn demeanor, and a respectful military audience,
U.S. President George W. Bush's effort to rally the nation behind
his Iraq strategy through a prime-time televised speech at Fort
Bragg, North Carolina offered nothing new to reassure a restive
public that the situation was coming under control.
increasingly bold calls by Democrats and some Republicans to at
least establish specific benchmarks in Iraq that could offer the
public some prospect for drawing down the 140,000-troop force that
has been there for more than two years now, Bush insisted that he
would stay the course and withdraw US soldiers only when Iraqi forces
were fully capable of taking their place.
did he admit that the administration had made any mistakes in carrying
out the war, least of all in its decision to invade. A new Washington
Post/ABC poll found that 53 percent of respondents believe that
the war did not justify the costs and that 52 percent now believe
that Bush "intentionally misled" the public about the
threat posed by Iraq before the invasion.
speech capped a weeklong administration offensive to reverse sagging
public confidence in Bush's leadership that included a hastily arranged
visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. It appeared designed
primarily to tie his strategy in Iraq once again to the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, despite the
conclusions by all relevant official inquiries that the ousted Iraqi
regime of Saddam Hussein had no operational ties with al Qaeda,
let alone 9/11.
he referred to the foe in Iraq as "insurgents" only once,
compared to the two dozen times he called them "terrorists"
during the 25 minutes of his speech. He even quoted Osama bin Laden
a man whose name was virtually banned from Bush's election campaign
last year lest it remind the electorate that he remains at large
as saying that "the whole world is watching this war."
is the latest battlefield in this war," Bush declared. "Many
terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets
of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took
the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington, and Pennsylvania.
There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them
abroad before they attack us at home."
he referred to 9/11 half a dozen times during the speech.
other than David Gergen, a media commentator who served as a top
political aide to both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, said he was
"offended" by Bush's efforts to tie Iraq to the "war
on terror," although he agreed that it could be an effective
tactic since the public has consistently rated Bush's management
of the "war on terror" higher than his Iraq policy.
though you and I may not like it, it's a trump card for the president,"
he told an interviewer on CNN.
others expressed doubt that the tactic will continue to work the
same magic and pointed to a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll released
Tuesday morning. In addition to finding that a record 61 percent
of the public believe Bush lacks a clear plan for handling the situation
in Iraq, it also found that, for the first time, a plurality of
citizens, by a 50-47 percent margin, now sees the war in Iraq as
separate from the war on terrorism.
fear he's gone to that well too many times," said former Clinton
adviser Paul Begala, while fellow Democratic consultant Tad Devine,
who referred to Bush's efforts as a "strategy of fear,"
told the Los Angeles Times, "I really think the sand
is going through the hourglass on this for the president ...as the
nation is further and further removed from what happened on (Sept.
were also quick to point out the irony of Bush's assertion that
Iraq has now become the "latest battlefield" in the war
on terror. In building the case for war back in November 2002, noted
a Democratic think tank, the Center for American Progress (CAP),
Bush had argued that invading Iraq was necessary to prevent it from
becoming a "training ground" for terrorists, while a recent
classified intelligence report warned that it had become precisely
that for the next generation of radical Islamists as a result of
the U.S. occupation.
Americans are aware that the hotbed of terrorism never existed in
Iraq until we got there, and it has, in fact, grown increasingly
(since then)," John Kerry, who ran as the Democratic presidential
candidate against Bush last November, told CNN after the speech.
Republicans voiced strong support for the president, it was the
growing unrest in their ranks, as well as the rapid loss of support
in the public-opinion polls, that persuaded the White House that
a major new public relations effort was necessary to save the policy.
then, Republicans interviewed after the speech admitted that the
administration had a serious problem, only allayed partially by
Bush's solemn tone, of reconciling its official optimism with the
day-to-day news of rising casualties among both US troops and Iraqi
citizens, after a brief hiatus following last January's elections.
than 1,700 US soldiers have died in the Iraqi conflict, more than
half of them since the formal return to Iraqi sovereignty one year
ago, an occasion that Bush's speech Tuesday was intended to mark.
As noted by the Post Wednesday, the number of car bombings
in Iraq has risen from 18 in June 2004 to 135 last month.
embarrassing was a statement by Vice President Dick Cheney earlier
this month in which he insisted that the insurgency in Iraq was
in its "last throes," a characterization that quickly
became the butt of jokes on late-night talk and comedy shows.
evident gap between rhetoric and reality became even more apparent
last week when the overall regional commander, Gen. John Abizaid,
told lawmakers that the insurgency was as strong now as it was six
months ago, and when Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld attempted to
reconcile Cheney's assertion at the same time that he admitted that
the insurgency could continue for another 12 years.
anxiety over such mixed signals was significantly increased this
past week when Republican senators asked to meet with Abizaid and
other top military officers behind closed doors, apparently to get
their off-the-record assessment of the situation in Iraq.
to the Congressional Quarterly, their request was rejected by the
White House, which offered instead to send Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs
of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers and Deputy Secretary of State
Robert Zoellick to brief the senators.
senators turned down the offer.
Lobe [send him mail] is Inter Press
Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service