I tuned in a couple of minutes late to watch my president talk about Iraq.
I saw him standing and wondered if I was watching an old news clip of an old speech. I wondered why he wasn't seated behind the great desk in the Oval Office?
It was a bad sign - a sign that the communications people are thinking way too hard and exactly the same as they've always thought. I've been in the meetings. I know how it goes in those meetings in this White House.
"We can't have him in the Oval."
"Well, that is where Johnson gave the Vietnam speeches. We can't have people drawing Vietnam comparisons. We need him to look different, stronger. He should stand."
"But wait, the Oval is also where every president sits to talk to the nation about things good and bad."
"No, too much like Vietnam. He has to stand."
Then there was the speech. I understood from some friends that he was going to admit to mistakes, to compassionately discuss the consequences of those mistakes and to lay out a bold and serious path forward...that it would be an exhaustive speech of the sort that a country deserves in a time of war.
Not much on the mistakes really. No admission that we went in with wanton hubris undermanned and under equipped or that his defiant, "We are winning, we are winning" statements were statements of hope and not statements of reality.
There wasn't much of the compassion that was once so evident in the man - think days after 9/11. The specifics felt like a nice outline of a speech that was to come. But then it was done and I was left unsatisfied.
The only thing that now rang true were the warnings - the standard stuff that the White House has pulled out since 9/11 - terrorists are on the loose in Iraq and they must be contained. American safety depended on not allowing radical Islam to take over in Iraq.
Here is the problem. Those things are only true now because of us. Al Qaeda is booming there... because of us. Other terror groups are thriving there... because of us. Our noble military is exhausted and spent because of our failures. But to leave now? It can't be done. Some sort of stability needs to be established. Terrorists intent on destroying western civilization shouldn't be left to run oil-rich countries that help control the Persian Gulf...literally. Remember what they did operating out of Afghanistan?
But as an old military friend said to me this week the only way to do that would be to send at least 50,000 more troops...maybe 1000,000...and to stay a very long time. That, however, isn't politically palatable for the White House so a smaller number becomes the answer and their failure is almost assured and this cycle then continues until we will end up just leaving because the public will demands it.
Then we reap. Then we watch as Al Qaeda booms (more than metaphorically) and other terror groups do the same and the United States is rendered helpless and weak, declawed and defanged in the face of terror. Then the terror will come here once more and we will be left looking for someone to attack and invade. And then someone will look once more to Iraq and make a speech about how we must bring the villains to justice and to Baghdad we will go once more.
This is a story that may not have a happy ending for anyone...especially those 20,000 new troops and their families who may be apart for a very, very long time.