Dear Leader Bush's speech on Wednesday didn't have a lot of surprises in terms of policies. But here are some of my initial thoughts about it.
His actual intentions were unclear from the speech, other than putting in more soldiers and somehow being more aggressive against the militias. But is this a tilt to the Shi'a? Are we going to go after Sunni militias and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army at the same time? Are we really going to bomb Syria and Iran for supposedly aiding "terrorists"? If we catch Jordan and Saudi Arabia aiding Sunni terrorists, are we going to bomb them, too?
It was striking that Bush effectively admitted what war critics and military analysts have been saying, that the war has been going badly. But his administration and our glorious generals have been insisting all along that we were winning, things were going fine, we had enough troops there, and so on. And war boosters have been making nasty accusations about anyone who insisted on talking about those uncomfortable facts.
He kept talking about "Al Qaida", as though Bin Laden had an army seizing territory in the middle of Iraq. This is a cynical game. At some point, the public has to start asking hard questions about these claims. You remember the "Al Qaida" terrorists we supposedly killed in the air strikes in Somalia this week? Well, now the story is that they weren't the "Al Qaida" we were going after, but they were still lesser "Al Qaida" anyway.
Some analysts are wondering if Bush's phrases about holding the Maliki government accountable and our commitment not being open-ended were intended to set up an alibi if Cheney and Bush later decide to withdraw the troops. They could function that way. But Bush also told us that it would be the awfulest thing anybody ever heard of if The Terrorists win in Iraq and they would be coming after us in the streets of American cities. So if Maliki doesn't cut it, Bush is just going to pull up stakes and bring all the soldiers home and let the civilization-shattering disaster happen? Bush's speech itself gave little idea of what those guidelines for the Maliki government actually are in terms of measurable results.
Republicans love to posture as tough guys and threaten war. But we now see a real weakness in the Republican Party's ability to function as a genuinely effective war party. Bush's speech last night was much darker, and he even felt the need to remind people that more Americans were going to be killed. But the heart and soul of the Republican Party is to comfort the comfortable. That's why the Party exists. As long as The Terrorists are seen by the affluent as a deadly menace to the American way of life, some level of sacrifice can be tolerated, especially when it can be channeled as in-you-face patriotism.
But now Bush is asking for support for a genuinely desperate military move. But sacrifice and hard times aren't what Republican supporters are accustomed to hearing. After 9/11, Bush famously encouraged everyone to show their patriotism by taking lots of vacations, going shopping and - of course - pay less taxes!!! Plus the reality of the sacrifices that have occurred have become much harder to ignore.
I've recently been reminded that Bush likes to include double messages that have particular meaning to his white Christian fundamentalist base that would go unnoticed by most people Wednesday's speech seems to have grouped more of those toward the end. There was the concluding reference to "the Author of Liberty", by which he presumably means God. I don't think I've heard Bush use that title (theologians might call it an "epithet") for the Almighty before. In fact, I'm not sure if I've heard anyone use it. Is this some kind of insider buzzword?
There were a number of other points where he may have been giving a wink and a nod to the fundis: "the path they propose", "fundamental human liberties" ["human rights" would have been the expected phrase], "the United States is blessed", "these dangerous times", "the calling of our time", "these trying hours", "hasten the day".
A lot of people caught the "There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship" passage and noted the irony of it in light of Bush's notorious "Mission Accomplished" speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln battleship. (Greg Sargent provides the visual at TPMCafe has the visual.)
But the paragraph was scripted with a bit of literary flair by the speechwriter, opening with "our fathers and grandfathers" and ending with providing "a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren".