I finally managed to catch a recording of Bush’s speech on Iraq in front of the Army War College, and while it was good, it lacked the kind of fire I was hoping for. Bush did a good job of showing that he had a plan for Iraq, and the violence of a few will not be allowed to derail that plan. He needed to do this, but he could have done it better. For instance, I would have invited some Iraqi bloggers to tell their story to the American people directly. The media won’t dare show a pro-American Iraqi, so Bush needed to do it.
Bush also needed to remind the world that the WMDs that provided his primary causus belli have indeed begun to be unearthed. He needed to show the world images of that sarin shell and tell the world that it represents only a small fraction of what Saddam failed to disclose to the UN as the world demanded of him. The absence of this crucial element is odd. Even if the shell represents a leftover from shortly before or after the Gulf War, it is crucial to point out that the four gallons of sarin found in Iraq would be enough to kill tens of thousands. His case was stronger than anyone thought – he needed to hit this point and hit it hard.
Bush needed to show us what is going right in Iraq, not just tell us. He needed to issue a real challenge to the media by doing an end-run around it and taking our case to the American people. He needed to tell us the stories the media didn’t. This is a speech that could have used the power of his September 20, 2001 speech or David Frum’s 2002 State of the Union. Bush isn’t the world’s best orator (far from it), but he can speak in a way that shows his force of character and his determination. He showed some of that, but we need to see more.
Granted, Bush sounded competent and in control, which he needed to do, but this is a speech that needed real fire. He did hit why we’re fighting, but I would have said something like this: In this war, we face the choice of fighting terrorism at home or fighting terrorism at its roots. Simply attacking al-Qaeda is not enough. Unless we change the conditions that spawned this form of terrorism, another will grow in its place. This simple line would have shown why a democratic Iraq is so important. Iraq is the keystone to this war, and if we can make Iraq even somewhat democratic we will be cutting off terrorism at the roots. Bush needs to tell the world that a democratic Iraq is what al-Qaeda fears most — because that is what will drain the swamp of terrorism.
On the other hand, the last few sections of the speech were brilliant, and I think there is a very important idea here:
Our actions, too, are guided by a vision. We believe that freedom can advance and change lives in the greater Middle East, as it has advanced and changed lives in Asia, and Latin America, and Eastern Europe, and Africa. We believe it is a tragedy of history that in the Middle East — which gave the world great gifts of law and science and faith — so many have been held back by lawless tyranny and fanaticism. We believe that when all Middle Eastern peoples are finally allowed to live and think and work and worship as free men and women, they will reclaim the greatness of their own heritage. And when that day comes, the bitterness and burning hatreds that feed terrorism will fade and die away. America and all the world will be safer when hope has returned to the Middle East.
These two visions — one of tyranny and murder, the other of liberty and life — clashed in Afghanistan. And thanks to brave U.S. and coalition forces and to Afghan patriots, the nightmare of the Taliban is over, and that nation is coming to life again. These two visions have now met in Iraq, and are contending for the future of that country. The failure of freedom would only mark the beginning of peril and violence. But, my fellow Americans, we will not fail. We will persevere, and defeat this enemy, and hold this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty.
The people of the Middle East need to hear this message, and we need to broadcast it 24 hours a day 7 days a week, every single day of the year. The problems of the Middle East aren’t caused by Israel, America, or any other external force. They are caused by the leaders who have embraced autocracy and corruption. The most important message we can send to the Middle East is that the path to strength is through democracy. The Arab culture is a culture based on honor and dishonor. We need to show that the Arab people can empower themselves. This is exactly what Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi fears the most. Once the Arab people realize that they have the power to unshackle themselves from the bonds of autocratic rule no power in heaven or earth can stop the inevitable rise of democracy.
Bush’s speech hit these points, but he needs to hit them constantly. He needs to take his case to the people and make it clear what we’re sacrificing blood and treasure to achieve. Despite all the anti-American voices that want to argue that this country is no better than the Ba’athists, the American people instinctively know that democracies don’t send terrorists out to destroy buildings or blow up subways. If there is one thing that approaches a truism in world politics it is that peace and democratization are innately linked.
Bush is only beginning to make his case. He needs to continue to make that case, and make that case with strength and determination. If Bush sticks to his gun, events will very likely decide in his failure. By the time of Election Day, the situation in Iraq will either be much better, in which case Bush will be reelected, or the US will blink and Iraq will spiral into chaos, in which case Kerry will turn Iraq into Vietnam politically even if the insurgents cannot militarily. We cannot afford this, and Bush needs to continue to remind the world why at every junction.