Surge has been all the talk for the last month. It’s funny, the word, surge, and it’s ubiquity lately reminds me of another word, from like ten years ago, that used to be bandied about, regarding public policy, usually in reference to funding, for like universal health care or whatever. We used to talk about the glide path.
And so I watch the President’s speech, where he in fact does not ever mention the word surge. I haven’t watched any of his speeches in a couple of years, certainly not since Mike Gerson left. And I’m fairly dismayed by the speech, by the lack of Gersonianism and by the fact that the President just doesn’t look that good.
He sure doesn’t look confident. He’s trying to sell us something here, trying to convince us, and he himself doesn’t look especially convinced. And, as expected, he doesn’t especially own up to much, but even what he does, oh, please, spare me the awful passive voice formulations.
“Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me,” he says.
I suppose it was like pulling teeth, getting him to say that much, but it’s not nearly enough. It’s like a gymnastics routine, that sentence, trying to keep the word mistakes as far away as possible from the word me. He sure doesn’t say the he’s made any mistakes. Apparently someone has though, and I suppose we should be grateful that he didn’t go all subjunctive on us, with “If mistakes have been made.”
But the second half of the sentence is in some ways even worse. He doesn’t take very much of the responsibility. He doesn’t directly say “I take responsibility;” rather, the responsibility so very gently rests with him.
Even discussing the situation in Iraq itself, even though saying, however passively, that the situation is unacceptable, he starts out by describing what happened even more passively. “We thought that … we could accomplish our mission,” he says, rather directly. But then he doesn’t say that we didn’t accomplish our mission. All he says is, the opposite happened. Like we had no control over anything. As Donald Rumsfeld infamously said, stuff happens.
At least later the President goes into some detail, but again so terribly passively:
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.
Again, there were not enough troops, without noting that it was his decision at all times as to troop levels. And no mention as to who or what could have been placing restrictions on the troops.
And so then the remedies he proposes are curiously underwhelming. Another twenty-thousand troops, he tells us. He doesn’t even tell us that those are combat personnel, although at that small a number I assume that they are. I’m thinking another hundred and fifty thousand would be a bold stroke. Another twenty thousand is like, what, another fifteen percent or something?
If this were truly “the decisive ideological struggle of our time,” as the President says it is, wouldn’t he be making a much bolder stroke? If in fact, “[f]ailure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States,” as he says it would be, shouldn’t we then be trying a lot harder?
I don’t suppose that we’ve got much more in the way of troops to be sending over there in any event. And I don’t personally feel like failure in Iraq being that much of a disaster for the United States. I think we’ve already failed in Iraq. It feels pretty much like our failure in Vietnam in 1975. And our failure in Lebanon in 1983. It stings like hell. But really, that’s about it.
But it’s much, much more of a disaster for this President, that’s for sure. And that’s why he can’t admit to mistakes, much less failure. This feels so much to me like just playing for time. If he can keep juggling this war until January 20, 2009, then he can claim forever that he didn’t lose this war, that he didn’t fail. Whoever inherits this mess will get blamed for the ignominious retreat.