Somber pep talk by Bush
President Bush's speech at Fort Bragg said most of what needed to be said, but it fell short in terms of rhetorical edge and delivery. We are accustomed to Mr. Bush's shortcomings in verbal communication by now, but it would be nice if he could rise to the occasion more often. Some people expected Bush to express contrition for past strategic mistakes, but such a gesture would not have served any purpose. I take issue with some of the decisions he and his generals have made, but I'm the first to admit I don't know enough of the facts to render an expert opinion. No civilian does. To his credit, President Bush called on the general public to persevere in the face of adversity, at long last hinting that we will have to bear serious sacrifices in order to prevail. It's too bad he didn't make a strong pitch for energy conservation, which is becoming once again a vital element of our national security. In terms of substance, he drew a clear link between Iraq and 9/11:
The terrorists who attacked us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent.
That is quite true, but he should have acknowledged that there are distinct factions within the Islamo-fascist ("terrorist") movement, because that is what is so confusing to many Americans. In the Democrats' rebuttal, Rep. Nancy Pelosi complained that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, which may or may not be true. Bush certainly never claimed there was a direct link, though Vice President Cheney did make such an assertion. But such quibbling over historical facts that may never be known for certain is utterly beside the point: We face an enemy that is consciously exploiting divisions within this country, and within the Western world, and what happens on the socio-psychological level is even more important than what happens in the streets of Baghdad, Mosul, or Fallujah. Unless Bush manages to convince a sufficient number of Democrat leaders that we must stand (relatively) united, the war will drag on inconclusively for decades. A reassuring sign that some on the Left are facing up to reality came in today's New York Times; see justoneminute (via Instapundit).
UPDATE: Roger Simon (via Instapundit) calls attention to a depressing sign that even many Democrats who are regarded as very intelligent just don't get it: Sen. Russ Feingold denounced President Bush for failing to provide "some sense of when he believes this conflict in Iraq will be over and when our brave men and women in uniform will come home." Is it not obvious to everyone that self-imposed deadlines and talk of looking for an "exit strategy" serve to bolster the enemy's resistance? How many times does Bush have to repeat that? Besides, does anyone seriously expect candor about what our military strategy is? Feingold really ought to know better. Such silliness reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit of a press conference during Desert Storm in which reporters kept asking "Gen. Schwarzkopf" for precise U.S. troop dispositions and other secrets likely to benefit the enemy. All this simply highlights the inherent difficulty that liberal, open democracies have in waging war. On the positive side, Simon calls Feingold's speech "one of the purest examples of the reason people like me have deserted the Democratic Party." To which I say, "ditto." Ahh, if only I could lower my standards and use the smash-mouth language popular on leftist blogs to say what I really think about political leaders like Feingold...
Fighting a counterinsurgency war is inherently frustrating, because there will never come a clear-cut moment at which we are sure that the other side has conceded. Some die-hard resistance in Iraq will probably continue for several decades, long after Egypt and other countries in the Middle East have passed through the turbulent, uncertain process of democratization. Jim Dunnigan ponders the amorphous nature of "winning" at strategypage.com:
It was long a popular myth in Moslem countries that the backwardness and poor government they suffered was somehow caused by the West. Much to the dismay of Islamic terrorists, coalition operations in Iraq show how false this is. While people are reluctant to admit they have been duped, many Moslems are now admitting that the problems in Moslem countries are internal, not some infidel conspiracy to "keep the Moslems down." Changing attitudes like this cuts off the flow of recruits for Islamic terrorist groups. This is a war that is not followed via troops dispositions and casualty counts, but by opinion polls and election results.
That is an accurate portrayal of the wider socio-psychological "battleground," except for the "opinion polls" part: Asking people on the phone what they think is not an accurate measure of how strong they feel about something. American people may be dissatisfied with how the war is going, but that doesn't mean they are losing their will to win.