Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

Comments by

Kevin Baker

Go to Text
President Bush's Address, entire page

Mr. Bush tells us that the year ahead will demand sacrifice, yet the only sacrifice he calls for in this speech is on the part of the men and women fighting in Iraq, and their families. Nothing better exemplifies the approach of the administration to this war, which has begun to approach dissociation.

Much has already been of Mr. Bush having “admitted” past mistakes, when in fact he did no such thing, only announced that he would accept responsibility–as if we need to be reminded that the commander-in-chief is ultimately responsible for the conduct of this war.

Yet in reality, Mr. Bush is directly to blame for all of the mistakes that have been made in Iraq, by defining the parameters of the war as he has. That is, by insisting that the war be fought as cheaply and quietly as possible, so as not to inconvenience the bulk of the American people in any way whatsoever, and by his every, preconceived notion regarding the Iraqi people and modern military strategy.

From this initial decision has flowed every other “mistake” in Iraq; from the insufficient troop levels, to the lack of protective body and vehicle armor, to the untrained and poorly led personnel guarding Abu Ghraib prison, to the slapdash economic development initiatives, to the shoddy intelligence effort, to the turning of critical civilian offices into a patronage mill, to the grand total of six (6) fluent, American speakers of Arabic in the Green Zone.

Yet for all his insistence on defining a “new way forward,” Mr. Bush has refused to abandon his old parameters. The relief he offers is paltry, at best. The addition of 17,500 troops in Baghdad, over the course of four months, is unlikely to bring any real order to a heavily armed city of six million. The $1.1 billion he has offered to pony up for new, civilian economic projects is about the cost of fighting the war for one week.

Nor, he makes clear, will anyone budge him from the course he wishes to pursue. He claims to have consulted with Congress, but those meeting have been widely described as perfunctory, at best. He claims to have consulted with our allies, when they have been reduced, in Iraq, to Tony Blair’s lame-duck government. He claims to have “benefited” from the Iraq Study Group report, when in fact he has already rejected its main proposals to move toward withdrawal and embark upon wide, regional negotiations.

Indeed, far from entertaining the idea of any negotiations, Mr. Bush’s vague threats to interdict insurgents and supplies coming over the borders from Syria and Iraq threaten to expand the conflict exponentially. His insistence on “clearing and securing” Baghdad neighborhoods exposes a fatal refusal to recognize that most of the “insurgents” are now Iraqis themselves, engaged in a grim civil war, and not outside provocateurs. Should he seriously pursue the strategy he outlines of evenhandedly attacking partisan militias into Sadr City, he will bring down the Maliki government and throw the country into even deeper chaos.

In short, it is Mr. Bush’s speech itself that is a quagmire, or more accurately a cesspool, into which has drained all of the right-wing’s foreign-policy fantasies since the end of World War II. Here have gathered all of the old platitudes as to how victory is merely the sum of firepower and will, from the first calls to end the Korean War by nuking the Red Chinese and laying a corridor of cobalt across the peninsula, to the demands that we turn North Vietnam “into a parking lot,” to the suggestions that we escalate the Cuban Missile Crisis into a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.

During these past crises the right wing did not, thank God, have the power to act on its demogagery, only to spew it about for domestic political advantage. Now, at last, they have a president who really believes that the world can be made just as he wants it to be, merely by saying so. It is he who will convert a costly misadventure into a true debacle.