In its instant analysis of Bush’s speech last night, the Washington Post wrote that the “address continued a shift” in the administration’s justifications of the war in Iraq to “now suggesting a more seamless link between Iraq and the [September 11] attacks.”
What reporters Dana Milbank and Peter Barker didn’t seem to understand, however, is that the President neither tried to “justify” the rationale for the war nor was there any “shift” in his position. While the speech contained little news of any sort, it did achieve a very important goal—one that is crucial in the face of the MoveOn.org crowd’s white noise campaign: it laid out in clear fashion the entire framework of what we’ve done in Iraq, what we’re doing now, where we’re headed, and most significantly, why it’s important that we prevail.
As we have been reminded ad nauseum, the president’s numbers have dropped significantly in recent months, none more precipitously than for how Americans believe he is handling the war in Iraq. It’s not that the situation in Iraq has not gotten worse—it hasn’t—but the Left has maintained its massive campaign machinery, while Bush has been relatively quiet on Iraq this year.
Last night, in fact, represented the most visible leadership Bush has provided on Iraq since November. While it made sense for the White House to allow the spotlight to shine on the new Iraqi government after the country’s first-ever elections in January, each passing month has seen the Left dominate the discussion on Iraq. In that time, they’ve spent most of their efforts undermining the legitimacy of the war—no WMDs, Saddam wasn’t a threat, Bush “lied,” etc.—thinking that that would convince Americans to demand that we pull out of Iraq.
While enough Americans have been persuaded—temporarily, at least—such that a majority now believes that the war was not justified, the Left’s ultimate objective of turning Americans against continued participation has not succeeded. Despite millions of dollars every week dedicated to undermining what young American men and women are trying to accomplish in Iraq, the American people have not been fooled by the Left’s ceaseless campaign.
Without sugarcoating the realities in Iraq, Bush laid out an effective rationale for why we must not acquiesce to the enemy as MoveOn.org and many Congressional Democrats would have us do. In the clearest and most concise reasoning articulated thus far, Bush explained the perils in announcing a date certain for leaving Iraq:
"Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis — who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops — who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy — who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out."
What really gets under leftists' skins, though, is Bush’s repeated referencing of 9/11. To the Left—from the Daily Kos blog to pundits on CNN and MSNBC—this was a continuation of the “myth” that Iraq was behind the September 11 attacks. But what they missed in the past and again last night is that the war in Iraq—or the War on Terror, for that matter—has never been about revenge; it is about preventing another 9/11.
President Bush cited no less an authority than Osama bin Laden to substantiate his correct claim that torpedoing freedom in Iraq is of foremost importance to al-Qaeda and other jihadists. Iraq’s budding democracy has not created new Islamic terrorists as the left claims, but it has undoubtedly served as a magnet for attracting them from all over. (Notice that President Bush named names in listing neighbors whose residents have become jihadists in Iraq, and not coincidentally or insignificantly, Saudi Arabia topped the list.)
Though last night’s speech was important and long overdue, President Bush needs to reiterate its clear messages throughout this and coming weeks. Just as the Left has not stopped the campaign efforts it began last year, neither should Bush. Americans can and will continue to support our men and women in Iraq—but Bush needs to be there providing leadership every step of the way.
Last night was a good start.