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May 25, 2004

The Speech

I've said before that I don't like commenting on speeches. Quite frankly, I'm never impressed by them. Well, almost never. The September 14th address in the well of the Senate brought me to tears, and filled me with angry resolve.

But I typically fast-forward past the interviews with politicians on Sunday morning shows, on the theory that they never make news, and the few times they do make news, the twenty second bite of them actually saying something interesting will be endlessly replayed and regurgitated on the news channels. I go straight to the pundits on Fox News Sunday, praying each time that this time will be the time Brit Hume actually leans over and smacks Juan Williams in his mouth.

I was watching the Bush speech for news. I didn't detect much. I was sort of impressed that he said very wise things about the need to give Iraqis the chance to defend their own country, and that ultimately, Iraqis would have to win their own futures, not US troops -- stuff that I said a month ago.

The plan he traced was basically the one I favored. I understand that a lot of conservatives want to stay as long as possible and kill as many of these terrorist sons-a-bitches as possible, and perhaps that's the perfect plan, but as usual the perfect is the enemy of the good. And the perfect here would seem to be not-so-perfect anyway, as the Iraqis seem increasingly angered by our continuing presence.

Fight side-by-side with Iraqis and kill every last one of the men who threaten their country, and ours? Absolutely-- assuming the Iraqis are indeed willing to fight side-by-side with us. When they're not so willing, there's something wrong. Perhaps, as Bush suggested, they're not willing to fight side-by-side with us because they view us as occupiers, and they therefore lack the normal feelings of patriotism that would instill in them the courage to fight.

I was surprised that liberal commentator Ceci Connelly called the plan "detailed." Perhaps I shouldn't have been.

One thing that always annoyed me about the press was how it was forever claiming that Clinton gave these amazingly detailed plans, demonstrating encyclopaedic knowlege of the issues. He didn't. He would just break down a bigger problem into smaller sub-problems, ticking them off on his fingers, but he never presented a "detailed plan" as to how to solve those sub-problems.

For example, when asked how to improve education, Clinton would just say:

Well, education is a tough problem. The way I see it, we have to accomplish five things to improve education.

[first finger] First, we need to make kids read better.

[second finger] Next, we have to teach kids how to do math better.

[ring finger] Third, we have to teach kids how to do that other shit better, you know, the gaywad shit, like art and music lessons. We need our kids creating first-class use-your-hand-to-finger-paint-a-turkey paintings. If we're to compete effectively with the Japanese, our kids have to master playing the recorder.

[pinky] Then we have to teach kids how to better interact with each other during recess. Bullying is a tremendous problem, greatly impeding our children's intellectual development.

[the big thumb's up to indicate the end of the list, and to communicate, "Hey-- this guy's giving me the thumb's up. He must like me. So I guess I like him."] Finally, we have to knit all these various strands together into one gorgeous mosiac of AmeriCorps happy time family values middle-class tax cut ebony and ivory.

You know, I watched Clinton for eight fucking years, watching him announce "plans" that were simply restatements of the problems in smaller, but wordier, steps, and I heard the press sing hoseannas about how fucking "substantive" and "detailed" he was. Every time, I thought I was about to begin screaming.

Ace of Spades HQ's plan for getting Instapundit to link me, get a book deal, and then earn a million dollars from blogging:

[index finger] First, get Instapundit to link me.

[middle finger] Next, leverage that link into a book deal.

[big thumb's up] Finally, make that sweet million fucking dollars.

The point here (and I do have one) is that Bush pretty much did the old Clinton "detailed plan" bullshit. How is he going to transfer power to the Iraqis, improve the security situation, increase confidence in the transitional government, and defeat terrorism?

Well, it's simple. He's going to first transfer power to the Iraqis, then improve the security situation, then increase.... you get the idea.

I was all set to be pissed off at Ceci Connelly. I figured that, after eight years of going into orgasmic conniptions over Clinton's various "detailed plans," she'd suddenly find that Bush's similarly "detailed plan" just wasn't detailed and substantive enough for her.

But she didn't. She actually thought it was detailed. "He provided a lot of dates," she said, apparently well impressed by Bush's ability to name squares on a calendar.

Which doesn't prove that she's fair and balanced. It does, however, tend to prove that she's an equal-opportunity nitwit.

This didn't bother me, because I think most of this talk of "plans" is idiotic. Every baseball team has a "plan" to defeat the opponent; but sometimes you lose fucking games anyway, because, get this, your opponents have "plans" too.

Bush's "plan" is what anyone's plan would be: kill enough of the enemy to dissuade the rest from making war, declare victory, go home.

I could use my fingers to count that plan off, but never mind about that now.

Bush's "plan" is to kill as many of the insurgents and terrorists as possible/as necessary, while minimizing Iraqi anger over Americans blowing stuff up. That's a plan, but there are no details for it, because it's impossible to announce detailed procedures in advance for achieving it. A thousand different gut-calls and snap judgments will be made in the field. One can't announce a detailed "plan" that will predict each of these calls and judgments.

Bush didn't detail a "plan" so much as an emphasis, a trajectory, a philosophy. There is some news there -- he's for the Iraqification of the battle against the insurgents -- and he thinks that is our best chance for success. He's not defining success, or our commitment, in maximalist terms, but more realistically and more modestly.

I agree, tentatively.

But I also agree with Dick Morris, who thought that Bush shouldn't just be concerned with detailing a "plan," should also endeavor to connect the battle for Iraq to the larger war on terror in concrete and emotional terms.

I wanted more facts. I wanted to hear about Sarin, for example. I wanted that connected up with the rationale for the war.

I assume there are reasons Bush didn't mention sarin. He may have focus-grouped the issue, and found that people react negatively when the subject of WMD is brought up, and so it's counterproductive to mention it at all.

I wanted to hear about the great numbers of Sadrists we're killing. But I admit that it is perhaps not Presidential to list the number of enemies you've killed.

There is maybe some news is Bush's statement that the government Iraqis set up will have to be one in accordance with their traditions; we came to Iraq to free the Iraqis from a tyrant, he said, not to turn them into Americans. This is about as crystal-clear an announcement as possible that America is not going to attempt to force a particular model of self-government on Iraq.

We would of course love them to set up a Western style multi-party democracy with strong protections for the rights of women and minorities and a separation of church and state, but oddly enough, it may be the case that telling them they have to create such a government will guarantee they won't. They seem like stubborn sons-a-bitches.

This may be some sort of a concession on Bush's part, but it's a concession to inevitability. In the long term, the Iraqis are going to have whatever government they want. Even if we set up a Jeffersonian democracy on July 1, they could undo it and create an Islamic theocracy the moment we departed. Perhaps it's most prudent to trust them to make the right decisions.

All in all, I guess the speech gets a "B." It may impress some people with its "details" and even its "dates." So to that extent it may reassure the public that Bush has "a plan," and that there is, ultimately, and endgame and a victory in sight.

BUt I don't think he did an especially good job of selling the war itself. Americans are doubting the Iraq war chiefly because they see the costs as greater than the benefits at this point. Bush may have reassured them that the costs will not continue being as great or as grievous, but he did little to convince Americans of the benefits of fighting and winning the war in the first place.

That's where I would have spent more time -- rejustifying, recontextualizing, restating the case for the war itself, and why it is so vital we win-- whatever the costs.


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posted by Ace at 01:35 AM

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