Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bush's Forgettable Iraq Speech

I haven't seen any snap polls showing the impact, if any, of Bush's big Iraq speech last night, but the circumstantial evidence seems pretty negative.

1) Here he was doing a highly emotional speech, full of tributes to the troops, at Ft. Bragg, and he got one ovation other than at the end.

2) Republican praise of the speech tended to focus on its rejection of a fixed timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, but rarely mentioned its other alleged functions, such as laying out a clear strategy for victory and reassuring the American people that he knows what he's doing.

3) I checked out National Review's The Corner, a reliable Bush Amen Corner (at least on national security issues) which offers near-24/7 commentary, and was impressed by the subdued tone. Sure, the tireless Kathryn Lopez tried to break out the pom-poms once or twice, but most of the discussion focused on attacking media criticism of the speech, and some regular posters actually expressed concern about Bush's "strategy" for Iraq.

4) Most ominously for Bush, his speech pretty much uniformly exasperated the "Blair Democrats," those who supported the war initially and who now oppose a fixed timetable for withdrawal. Indeed, some of the harshest criticism of the speech came from this quarter.

In this connection, you should check out the DLC's take on Bush's effort, which may be the most thorough critique I've seen to this point.

One point it makes is a really interesting question: why didn't Bush appeal explicitly to anti-Iraq-war Americans to put aside their disagreements over his original decision to invade Iraq and focus on the broadly accepted negative consequences of abandoning the country to chaos? He could have quoted a long string of Democratic opponents to the original war resolution, including Howard Dean, who are on record as emphatically saying we can't accept defeat in Iraq now that we're there, rightly or wrongly. He could have helped marginalized the fixed-deadline advocates. He could have been a "uniter, not a divider." And he could have probably bumped up support for his current Iraq policies, not just for a moment but for a while, by decisively severing the link between support for past Bush policies and support for what he's doing now.

Instead, Bush strengthened the link between past, present and future Iraq policies by repeatedly returning to a rationale for the original decision to invade that, frankly, is losing credibility every day: it was all about 9/11. Yes, yes, I know, that was his strategy for deflecting criticism about Iraq in the 2004 campaign, but now Bush isn't trying to get re-elected; he's supposedly trying to avoid a nosedive in public support for what he's doing in Iraq today. And the fact that he still cannot let go of his dubious ex post facto rationalizations of the Iraq venture is a bad sign about what we can expect between now and the day he finally goes home to Crawford.

UPDATE: As proof that the DLC does not demand internal coordination, much less impose party-wide litmus tests, I must confess that I did not read the accurate pre-speech post by my colleague The Moose, who predicted it would be "forgotten," before doing the above post-speech take suggesting it was "forgettable." But clearly, we do think alike, if sometimes we graze in different pastures.
-- Posted at 5:47 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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