So there you have it. The New Way Forward. The promise of great new things followed up by the delivery of more of the same failed thinking and policies.
"The new strategy I outline tonight," said the president, "will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror."
Unfortunately the grandeur of that promise was contrasted by the shocking banality of what is actually being proposed.
Here are the "Six Fundamental Elements" the president's new strategy is "rooted in" (as laid out in a helpful little fact sheet the White House released to coincide with the speech): 1) Let the Iraqis lead; 2) Help Iraqis protect the population; 3) Isolate extremists; 4) Create space for political progress; 5) Diversify political and economic efforts; and 6) Situate the strategy in a regional approach.
Here are my Two Fundamental Reactions: 1) Sure, of course; these make total sense. But aren't these the very things we've already being doing? What exactly is new about this strategy? How is this attempt to help Iraqis protect the population different than all the other attempts to help Iraqis protect the population? Haven't we been trying to isolate extremists and create a "space for political progress" all along? (After we captured Saddam and stopped looking for WMD, that is.) Is the difference that this time we really mean it?
2) Wow, those must be 20,000 pretty awesome troops the president is sending in, if they are going to successfully do all that when the 145,000 troops we have now (or the 160,000 we had a year ago) weren't able to.
Here are some of the presidential concepts that filled me with dreadful feelings of déjà vu:
"Agree that helping Iraqis to provide population security is necessary to enable accelerated transition and political progress."
"Strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption."
"Encourage Arab state support to Government of Iraq."
"Support political moderates so they can take on the extremists."
All worthy goals but, let's get real Mr. President, these aren't exactly the promised silver bullets that "will change America's course in Iraq."
But reality-based thinking is clearly an anathema to Bush, who continues to insist, with all his might, that Iraq is some kind of war-on-terror-defining Shootout at the Islamist Corral, pitching the white hats of freedom against the black hats of terror. "The war on terror cannot be won if we fail in Iraq," warns the White House fact sheet, as if that discredited line of reasoning is, in fact, a fact. "Our enemies throughout the Middle East are trying to defeat us in Iraq." I guess the White House never got the memo that the fight in Iraq is now more about Shiites and Sunnis trying to resolve centuries-old grievances, than it is about tracking down terrorists. Or, more likely, it did get the memo (there's been plenty of them) and decided to ignore it, knowing that "killing the bad guys that want to kill us" is an easier sell than "playing traffic cop in the middle of a civil war." But the American people aren't buying it anymore.
And, no matter how many times the president keeps saying it, we're not buying that we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here. That, of course, didn't stop the president from trotting out the old flypaper strategy again: "Tonight in Iraq," he said, "the armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the war on terror -- and our safety here at home." (Apparently Bush's addiction to fear-mongering is hard to break. Not even the thumpin' he took in November -- and continues to take in the polls -- is enough to make him go cold turkey.)
Drudge made a lot of the president's admission of mistakes in Iraq -- as if this were major news, which is, no doubt, what the White House wanted. But the president has already admitted mistakes in Iraq. His mistake now is in not changing course (except rhetorically) after the earlier admissions of mistakes. The reason why admitting mistakes is considered a good thing to do is the assumption that you'll stop making them -- or at least stop making the same ones. But Bush is even incompetent at admitting his own incompetence. It's like an alcoholic admitting he's started drinking again, then announcing he plans to get back on the wagon by drinking even more. You should not get credit for admitting mistakes unless the admission is accompanied by an effort to stop making them.
Tonight's speech did give us one new thing: a new definition of victory. According to the president: "Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship... A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them -- and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren." So victory will be achieved when Iraq starts fighting terrorists instead of harboring them. Like Pakistan. Or Saudi Arabia.
At the end of the day, victory in Iraq, for the president, is like pornography -- you can't really describe it, but, he assures us, we'll know it when we see it. Or, more accurately, when our children and grandchildren see it. God willing.