President Bush proved in his State of the Union Address last night that he has victory in sight. If only those in the chamber shared his goal. The president painted a stark picture of reality on the ground, the consequences of failure, and the betrayal of “an orderly redeployment.” His message fell upon 300 deaf ears, but 250 million listening Americans may prove sufficient to save American prestige from abroad from hitting a post-Carter low. It was a powerful and prophetic message opposed by powerful interests.
President Bush’s terse but powerful exposition on Iraq may one day be seen as the speech that breathed sense back into an ever-declining discussion of the War on Terror. Rhetorically, he boxed in the cut-and-run Democrats (and Republicans) from the speech’s outset, noting all elected officials were:
called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this nation's prosperity; to spend the people's money wisely; to solve problems, not leave them to future generations; to guard America against all evil; and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us.
For the second time in two weeks, President Bush reminded the country of the immense costs of defeat (or, if you prefer, “a political solution”). After sketching the major actors in the region – noting whether they were Sunni or Shi’a, presumably for the education of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes – Bush declared:
If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shi’a extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al-Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country – and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.
For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective.
The president knew whereof he spake. In October 2005, Western media obtained a copy of Ayman al-Zawahiri's letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, written in July 2005. In it, the terrorist mastermind delineated for the terrorist street thug the strategy al-Qaeda in Iraq was to follow:
The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.
The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or emirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate, over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before unIslamic forces attempt to fill this void…
The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.
The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.
Responding to why he charts such an ambitious course of Middle Eastern conquest while losing a war with Americans, Zawahiri replied, “Things may develop faster than we imagine. The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam – and how they ran and left their agents – is noteworthy.”
Undoubtedly, it was not lost on him that the proximate cause of our precipitous withdrawal from Vietnam was the opposition of a newly elected, left-wing Democratic Congress.
His was a letter so effective, it caused al-Qaeda – and such leftists as Juan Cole – to claim it was a forgery. Like another writ, it proved an effective means of discerning the Left’s inner heart, separating even the joints from the marrow and the soul from the spirit.
More than a year after the letter’s publication, Ted Kennedy is busily trying to do his part for the plan’s implementation. (Forget the Iraq Study Group; the Zawahiri letter may as well have been the report the Democrats were waiting for.) Kennedy’s latest gambit is a proposed resolution requiring reauthorization of force, as the conflict in Iraq has changed. (So, too, did WWI, WWII, and even his brother’s war, Vietnam.) This, President Bush brilliantly turned aside, as he turned aside Howard Dean’s call to submit American national interests to the UN in 2004:
This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.
If one thing remains unchanged, it is the Democrats’ abiding desire to lose this war. What has remained consistent: the Democratic Party Left has called for withdrawal nearly since voting to authorize the war, even voting to deny troops in harm’s way body armor. Following last year’s State of the Union Address, when events in Iraq were at a high – after Shi’ites and Sunnis had voted to endorse a democratic, inclusive national constitution – the Democrats responded by calling for an exit strategy. Before the war commenced, Ted Kennedy called for stationing tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf as a threatened deterrent to Saddam Hussein, professing himself willing to pay whatever price necessary to fund the troops. Now, he and Carl Levin call for troop withdrawal within the next four months.
In the true spirit of bipartisanship, two U.S. senators – one a Republican, the other a Democrat – demonstrated the bankruptcy of such a notion, the idiocy of leaving “our promises unkept, our friend abandoned.” Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joseph Lieberman questioned Lt. Gen. David Petraeus about the impact of the proposed “anti-surge” resolutions. “It would not be a beneficial effect, sir,” Gen. Petreus told McCain. He agreed when Lieberman asked if these resolutions “give the enemy some encouragement,” Petraeus replied, “That’s correct, sir.” The military man added: “This is a test of will.” “We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out. In fact any such endeavor is a test of wills.” As a warrior, Petraeus wants “the enemy to feel that there is no hope.”
So would anyone serious about safeguarding the United States from Zawahiri’s foreign policy brief. As President Bush said last night:
I respect you and the arguments you've made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field, and those on their way.
The president added, “We didn't drive al-Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.”
The president made a decided turn against Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of creating a new, “streamlined” military, calling on Congress to add 92,000 troops to armed services within five years. Here, Bush has had to reverse the policy in place since the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the idea of fighting a two-front war perished, in the minds of hopeful Bush-41 apparatchiks and in the draconian appropriations of Clinton-era budgets that reflected his view that good times were here to stay. With Iran and North Korea saber-rattling, the notion of a smaller military is a welcome bow to strategic reality. And unlike the call to support the troops, it appeared to share broad bipartisan support. (It is regrettable that 92,000 soldiers are not much of a deterrent if they are never deployed, or constantly redeployed upon the first casualty or gust of the political winds.)
Bush also announced the formation of a special, bipartisan advisory council on the War on Terror. Given the Democratic Party’s “sense of the senate” resolutions, one need not speculate what its members will advise.
In the first half of his speech, President Bush proved himself unfailingly felicitous as ever, praying for Congressmen Tim Johnson and Charlie Norwood and luxuriously praising Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her father – a feat all the more remarkable given that the Left portrays him as the second incarnation of Hitler.
Before listing a series of domestic proposals (which he further expanded here), he called attention – curiously missing in the mainstream media – to the booming economy: 7.2 million new jobs and nearly four years of often vigorous economic growth. Not bad at all, following Clinton’s recession and 9/11. He announced three economic priorities:
1. Balance budget – without raising taxes. Eliminates federal deficit within the next five years. This inspired Hillary Clinton’s first crooked smirk of the evening.
2. Cut earmarks in half.
3. Fix Medicare, Medicaid, and save Social Security from insolvency. His proposals for these requisite systemic changes have already been pronounced D.O.A.
His health care reformed may fare little better; this is not Hillarycare, with its grasp to nationalize one-seventh of the nation’s economy, the portion that is literally life-and-death. His free market plan called for allowing individuals to write off the cost of their health care programs, expanding Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and the trial lawyers’ silver bullet: medical liability reform. Hillary called this health care plan “really troubling.”
The ultimate irony of those voters who “threw the bums out” last November, frustrated that the GOP could not enforce the border or improve our lot in Iraq may have procured for themselves an overly liberal immigration policy and American defeat abroad. The two areas in which Democrats are genuinely eager to work with the president are Open Borders and alternative energy. (Preemptive surrender is not a bipartisan initiative.) The president will almost certainly get an unnecessary and not-really temporary “Temporary Guest Worker Program” with broad Democratic support.
The president’s boldest achievable proposals came in recognizing the nation’s energy supplies is also a central front in the War on Terrorism. However, he did not monochromatically call for a full-scale conversion to solar, hydro-, or wind power overnight. The man the Left derided as a Texas oil tycoon proposed reducing increasing alternative fuels five-fold and reducing gasoline usage 20 percent in 10 years. Unlike the Left, though, he added a balanced component until the gradual market shift can come about to free the world from a petroleum grip: in the meantime, we must increase domestic oil supplies, including American oil production (and, though he did not mention it specifically, refining) and doubling the strategic reserve.
President Bush also referenced, for the first time, the “serious problem of global climate change.” How would he explain this “serious problem” in light of the fact that Antarctica has been cooling at the rate of 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade? We never heard. Nor will he get this problem in hand, until he solves the “serious problem” of bovine flatulence and volcanic activity. Farm animals account for 20 percent of world methane emissions. Perhaps he could proscribe vegetarianism and stop ?
Sen. James Webb’s Response
Sen. James Webb of Virginia gave a surprisingly effective Democratic response. His tone was confident, his words measured, his temperament (for once) even. It also lacked his characteristic pedophilia references. In the response, he demonstrated that he had not jettisoned all the qualities that make a good Republican.
The content, on the other hand, was stale and bordering on the fantastic. “We've established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond
party lines,” said the man who snubbed the president at reception for new Congressmen. (And the leftist bloggers loved it: “Why should Webb be civil to this fool of a Commander in Chief???”)
“The president took us into this war recklessly,” he charged, warding off all criticism with the amulet of his soldier-father’s picture. Some radical Republicans charged that FDR allowed Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor, part of a conspiracy to get America into World War II. Others feared Harry Truman had touched off World War III with the world’s most populous nation over the dividing line of the Korean peninsula (though the entry to the war itself was above reproach). History neutered the conspiracy theories; results quieted their detractors in the public consciousness. And this is what the irresponsible Right’s heirs on today’s irresponsible Left most fear, so they feel they must forestall success for the sake of their political futures.
Webb made clear he desires “Not a precipitous withdrawal,” but a withdrawal “in short order.” The Left’s “alternative” to the surge gets no clearer than the defeatist mist spraying out of Webb’s mouth.
Economically, Webb’s truth-inverting message consisted of old and tiresome union slogans more at home in Dick Gephardt’s 1988 campaign: “Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas.” Did Webb forget the “dismantling” came courtesy of Bill Clinton’s NAFTA plan? That only Jesse Jackson and Pat Buchanan significantly opposed the plan? That when CNN looked for someone to debate Al Gore on the topic, the only person they could find was Ross Perot? That the manufacturing jobs lost have been replaced by better-paying high-tech jobs in America? America hasn’t, one of the reasons John Edwards’ first presidential bid fizzled. And Al Gore’s populist campaign of 2000. And Pat Buchanan’s insurgency of 1996. And Jerry Brown, and Dick Gephardt, and Walter Mondale….
With such tired economic proposals as helping “the right people” and such disastrous foreign policy proposals as his self-contradictory Iraq surrender policy, the nation has reason, indeed, to be concerned that Jim Webb is considered the voice of a Congressional majority.
Near the end of the president’s address, he stated hopefully, “[T]he State of our Union is strong, our cause in the world is right, and tonight that cause goes on.”
In addition to being truthful and felicitous, this highlights another of his appealing characteristics: his eternal optimism.