a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Bush’s speech at Fort Bragg: a scorecard

Posted by Thomas Nephew on June 29th, 2005

On Sunday, Suzanne Nossel (DemocracyArsenal, via Stygius) provided a checklist for Bush’s speech on the Iraq situation at Fort Bragg. I’m going to use it as I read that speech, now available at the White House web site. Once I’m done, I’ll see how Ms. Nossel evaluated the speech.

1. Willingness to Face Reality about Conditions on the Ground
The mere fact of giving the speech ensured there would be some kind of nod in this direction, and there was: “The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying — and the suffering is real….” There was no insulting talk of “last throes,” either. Bush would later paint too rosy a picture of the current positives (Iraqi military training), but he didn’t underrate the negatives. Grade: B

2. Honest Appraisal of the Iraqi Security Forces
Bush didn’t argue this is a short-term push before we turn things over to a rebuilt Iraqi security apparatus, but he did pump up the impression of those Iraqi forces: “Today Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions” … like silently hating their American colleagues. The Washington Post article Nossel cites makes clear to its readers what our Commander in Chief would not to his people: the Iraqi forces are still a paper tiger. Grade: F

3. A Characterization of the Insurgency
To judge by Bush’s speech, they’re practically all Al Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, that is the primary mission in Iraq: “Our mission in Iraq is clear. We’re hunting down the terrorists.” True, he leaves himself wiggle room: “Some of the violence … is being carried out by ruthless killers who are converging on Iraq…” But mainly, it’s terrorists, terrorists, terrorists. I don’t doubt many of them are non-Iraqis, but based on reports like this one, I do doubt most of them are, or that most of them aspire to jihad glory beyond Iraq someday. Listening to Bush, you’d think they all did. Grade: D

4. A Rejection of Partisanship
A specific repudiation of Karl Rove’s comments last week? None that I could see.I was prepared to give a B or a C if he merely mouthed bromides like “across the aisle” or “we may differ.” Wasn’t counting on that, though. Grade: F

5. A Commitment to Stronger Support for U.S. Troops
I think is not exactly what Nossel had in mind here. Cookies and e-mails for the troops don’t make up for paltry benefits or endless tours of duty. Still, it’s all many of us can do, hence the link. Grade: D

6. A Plan to Buttress Flagging Military Recruitment Efforts
Bush didn’t provide a plan so much as a sales pitch: “no higher calling” than a military career. As John Derbyshire pointed out in a rare off-key note over at The Chorus Corner, elites in this country don’t buy into this. At least there was no mention of a draft, either. Grade: C

7. A Plan for Victory
Ironically, Bush seems to be touting many of the same things Kerry was before the election: Get international help. Train Iraqi troops. Get international help. Plus: Stay the Course. Under No Circumstances: Raise Troop Levels. I don’t disagree with any of it; I hope Bush succeeds with all of it. But hope is not a plan. What was needed here was a re-evaluation of “victory” in light of the many failures so far: no WMD, Abu Ghraib, lack of international support, lack of security for Iraqis, especially those on our side. We didn’t get it. Grade: D

8. An Honest Assessment of Why Iraq Matters
As Nossel put it, “The notion that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq to avoid fighting them at home was spurious when Bush first said it.” But Bush repeated the claim tonight, and then relied on his military echo chamber to reinforce the message.

There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq — who is also senior commander at this base — General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said: “We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us.”

There was no real acknowledgement that the American presence is also a recruitment tool for terrorists — which would lead to all kinds of apparently unwanted results, such as minimizing contact or drawing down troops.

Nossel wrote, “Bush needs to explain why Iraq now matters on its own terms.” He didn’t. To Bush, Iraq is mainly a front in the war on terror. To be fair, Bush also sells it as an investment in whatever fruits democracy will yield to Iraqis and to us when this fighting is over years from now. I’m not sure they’ll feel they owe us much allegiance by then. Grade: F

Overall Grade: D

Let’s see what Ms. Nossel said… looks like she’s generally more charitable in her post-speech scorecard (A-, B, C, B, D, D, F, D). She gives Bush higher marks for honestly appraising the Iraqi security forces, but still noted that “his somber assessment overstated the facts.” She also discerned some rejection of partisanship — but mainly in that he didn’t stoop to Rove-like rhetoric himself; I set the bar a little higher than that. On the other hand, Nossel didn’t give Bush the gentleman’s C I did for not hinting at a draft.

An interesting exercise, I think. Check out Nossel’s site, “Democracy Arsenal.” It features some fairly clear-eyed analysis of Iraq and military affairs from what seems to be a skeptical, left-of-center perspective. I’ll be dropping in more often. Thanks again to Stygius for the tip.

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