Bush's Address: Postmortem

James Fallows takes stock of Bush's effort to sell Americans on his "troop surge" plan.

This was an intelligent speech, carefully written and delivered with appropriate gravitas. In striking contrast to the President’s rhetoric of a year or two ago, it addressed some actual objections to the Administration’s policy. Most of the time, it avoided overblown claims. Etc.

But I will bet anyone any amount of money that three or four months from now, we will look back on this as yet another “false dawn” announcement — like the hugely publicized National Strategy for Victory in Iraq of November, 2005. At the time, this strategy was going to correct all previous errors; now, it’s a previous error itself.

Here’s one passage from tonight’s speech that illustrates why. Recognizing what we might call shortcomings in the current, Shiite-dominated Maliki regime — for instance, its lynching-like execution of Saddam Hussein — the President said there would be no more blank check for Iraq’s fledgling government. Instead, “America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced,” which are these:

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend 10 billion dollars of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation’s political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws—and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.


If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people…The Prime Minister understands this. Here is what he told his people just last week: “The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation.”
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Oh, sure. If these are the benchmarks, is there anyone who thinks that, as of this speech and because of the President’s recent heart-to-heart with Maliki, they will possibly be attained? That the addition of 20,000 U.S. troops will allow Iraq’s own faction-ridden security forces to take control of every bit of the country’s territory? That Maliki’s regime or whatever comes after it will be able to control the sectarian militas and strongmen? That a government that has shown absolutely no ability to pursue national (as opposed to sectarian) goals will magically be able to divide up the oil?

The question before this speech was whether the United States could do anything to change the largest trends in Iraq, which were toward a state of violent chaos and against anything resembling progress or order. On the basis of this speech, the answer still appears to be: No.